Part 12 – Viva Cuba! – What to Do: Day Beach Trips from Havana

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Emily:  When I learned about America’s more relaxed policy towards travel to Cuba, I jumped at the opportunity!

Cuba has a lot to offer.  My friends and I were drawn to the classic cars, the Art Deco architecture, and, of course, the friendly people!  We also love music and dance, which is one of Cuba’s specialties! Rick Steves recently produced an excellent video on Cuba that’s fun and informative.

The US and Cuba reached an agreement for direct flights.  Flight availability to Cuba from various US airports and search engines is ALWAYS changing, so be sure to try multiple search engines and cities, if possible.  Readers have reported that some flights to Cuba from the US may be opening up.  When I went to Cuba in December 2015, flights were not scheduled yet. My friends and I flew via Cancun, and continued our journey to Havana.

Note:  Regulations surrounding US travel to Cuba are always changing, so make sure you check the current rules before planning your trip.  There are limited opportunities to use miles & points, but you can save some money.  I’ll show you how later in this series!

Part 12 Viva Cuba What To Do Day Beach Trips From Havana

Visit the Beach for a Snorkel Tour During Your Trip to Cuba!

My travel partners included many of the same friends who accompanied me to Croatia!

Robbie (pink hair) is a professional dance instructor who teaches salsa, kizomba, and bachata.  Sarita is also a dance teacher, as well as a graphic designer.  Gissell teaches fitness classes and loves rock climbing.

On this trip, I went with 3 new friends – Diana, a local art teacher, Chelsea, who manages a hostel, and Antonio, who works in IT design.  Traveling as a group of 7 was fun, but definitely challenging at times!  We had a great time together, and can’t wait to return!

Viva Cuba! Trip Report Index:

Day Trips to the Beaches

A trip to Cuba isn’t complete without a trip to the beach!  My friends and I rented a cab driver for the full day.  It cost ~140 CUC, including gas. This was expensive, but our driver stayed with us and waited around for us all day.

Part 12 Viva Cuba What To Do Day Beach Trips From Havana

The Price to Rent a Cab All Day Was Worth It, Because It Came With the Insight of a Knowledgeable Local!

For the best prices, it helps to ask more than 1 driver.  Never agree to the first cab, unless you know for sure it’s a good price.  And ask your host family what a fair price is to your destination.

Playa Coral

We took a cab to Playa Coral near Matanzas, a ~2 hour drive.

Part 12 Viva Cuba What To Do Day Beach Trips From Havana

We Stopped Half-Way to Fill Up the Gas Tank

Riding to the beach in such a cool car was sooo exciting!!

Part 12 Viva Cuba What To Do Day Beach Trips From Havana

We Know How to Keep Ourselves Occupied on a Road Trip

The drive to Playa Coral was long.  I was surprised at the great shape of the roads, even hours away from the city.

Part 12 Viva Cuba What To Do Day Beach Trips From Havana

Road Signs to Matanzas Sparked Our Excitement for the Beach!

After ~2 hours, we finally made it!

We found the snorkeling counter, and checked in for our tour!

Part 12 Viva Cuba What To Do Day Beach Trips From Havana

Excited to Snoop Around Beneath Cuban Waters

The tour guide brought us out in groups.

Part 12 Viva Cuba What To Do Day Beach Trips From Havana

The Tour Was Bigger Than I Expected!

You can choose to wear a life jacket if you’re not the best swimmer.  I wore one because I love being able to just float in the water and not have to work too hard.  But do what works best for you!

Part 12 Viva Cuba What To Do Day Beach Trips From Havana

Where to Explore First?!

There was a lot of interesting coral.  I wanted to investigate all of it!

Part 12 Viva Cuba What To Do Day Beach Trips From Havana

The Water Was a Little Cloudy

It wasn’t as beautiful as snorkeling in the Maldives, where all the coral was rich, colorful, and healthy.  But Cuba is a lot cheaper and easier to visit!

Part 12 Viva Cuba What To Do Day Beach Trips From Havana

You Have to Swim Close to the Coral to Truly Appreciate Its Beauty

I loved following the schools of fish.

Part 12 Viva Cuba What To Do Day Beach Trips From Havana

I Could Tail Them for Hours

It was difficult to keep up with their zigging and zagging!

Part 12 Viva Cuba What To Do Day Beach Trips From Havana

I’m Starting to Think Even THEY Don’t Know Where They’re Going

Everyone had a great time in the water, and we ended up staying out twice as long as we should have.

Part 12 Viva Cuba What To Do Day Beach Trips From Havana

There’s a Certain Tranquility You Can Only Find Underwater

When we came back, some employees tried to charge us extra.  We explained that we didn’t know we had to come back, but they persisted!  Instead of arguing, we went back to collect our things, and they left us alone.

Part 12 Viva Cuba What To Do Day Beach Trips From Havana

Afterwards, We Quickly Stopped to Check Out the Souvenir Shop

Then, we piled into the car for the drive back to Havana.

Part 12 Viva Cuba What To Do Day Beach Trips From Havana

Sad to Leave the Beach, but Ready for the Next Adventure!

On the way back to Havana, we found another cool looking beach area.

Part 12 Viva Cuba What To Do Day Beach Trips From Havana

From Coast to Coast, Cuba Is Bursting With Charm!

We were the only ones there, besides a few locals.  I loved the feeling of being off the beaten path.

Part 12 Viva Cuba What To Do Day Beach Trips From Havana

The Less Touristy the Better!

We decided to check out the beaches.

Part 12 Viva Cuba What To Do Day Beach Trips From Havana

The Whole Beach Was Pretty Deserted

The beaches were kind of rocky.

Part 12 Viva Cuba What To Do Day Beach Trips From Havana

The Area Was Just as Pretty as the First Beach, Just In a Different Way

We enjoyed looking for seashells.

Part 12 Viva Cuba What To Do Day Beach Trips From Havana

Sarita Seeks Seashells by the Seashore

We made our way back to the outdoor patio.

Part 12 Viva Cuba What To Do Day Beach Trips From Havana

Complimentary Cuban Seaside Souvenirs!

We met another resident cat.

Part 12 Viva Cuba What To Do Day Beach Trips From Havana

Even the Animals Seemed Friendlier in Cuba

At the bar, we ordered piña coladas.  They turned out to be the best I’ve ever had!

Part 12 Viva Cuba What To Do Day Beach Trips From Havana

Mix Some Cuban Rum and Fresh Cuban Fruit With a Beautiful Cuban Seascape for the Best Piña Colada

Some of us danced a bit of salsa.  We were in Cuba, after all!

Part 12 Viva Cuba What To Do Day Beach Trips From Havana

Practicing the Moves We Learned During Our Spontaneous Dance Class in Downtown Havana

The drive back was beautiful.  The houses were surrounded by flowers and painted in bright, cheery colors.

Part 12 Viva Cuba What To Do Day Beach Trips From Havana

The Houses Harmonized With the Environment

We spotted a line of horses headed the opposite direction.  Seeing them made me want to go riding!

Part 12 Viva Cuba What To Do Day Beach Trips From Havana

I Would Love to Explore Cuba on a Horse!

At one point, we needed fuel, but there were no stations.  So our driver stopped at someone’s house and asked them.  They opened the trunk and started filling!

Part 12 Viva Cuba What To Do Day Beach Trips From Havana

More Than Willing to Help a Complete Stranger

Soon, we were back on the road again.

Part 12 Viva Cuba What To Do Day Beach Trips From Havana

Cuba Is So Photogenic!

Playa del Este

Another day, we took a ~30 minute ride to the beaches near Havana.  It was a $15 taxi ride to the beach.  Our cab driver was a young man from Havana.

He told us his dad agreed to give him a car on 1 condition:  he had to support his family with it.  In Cuba, cab drivers and owners of casa particulars are self-employed.  They set their own work hours and keep all the profits.

But not everyone is lucky enough to own a car or land to rent.  They have to think of other ways to make money.  The state doesn’t pay very well.

Part 12 Viva Cuba What To Do Day Beach Trips From Havana

We Experienced Some of the Most Fascinating Culture in Cuba Through the Stories of Our Cab Drivers

We loved talking to him and listening to his stories so much that we invited him to join us for lunch.

Part 12 Viva Cuba What To Do Day Beach Trips From Havana

The Beach Had Gorgeous Powdery Sand

The water was very refreshing.

Part 12 Viva Cuba What To Do Day Beach Trips From Havana

Robbie and Sarita Breaking Waves

We looked for more seashells and drew in the sand.

Part 12 Viva Cuba What To Do Day Beach Trips From Havana

Consummating Our Cuba 2015 Adventure

The sunset was beautiful!

Part 12 Viva Cuba What To Do Day Beach Trips From Havana

Picture Perfect Shoreline

Soon, it was time to go home.

Part 12 Viva Cuba What To Do Day Beach Trips From Havana

Ready to Head Back to Civilization

On the way home, our taxi driver taught Robbie how to drive a stick shift.

Part 12 Viva Cuba What To Do Day Beach Trips From Havana

Off to a Rough Start!

The view on the Malecon (the oceanside street) was so beautiful.

Part 12 Viva Cuba What To Do Day Beach Trips From Havana

Gorgeous, Well Cared-For, and Modern Feeling Area of Havana

Bottom Line

Day trips to the beach from Havana can take anywhere from 30 minutes to a couple hours.

Varadero is supposed to have the best beaches in all of Cuba, but we didn’t want to spend ~4 hours driving there and arranging overnight accommodations.

We had a great time visiting Playa Coral (~2 hour drive) for the snorkeling, and Playa del Este (30 minute drive) for the beaches.

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5 responses to “Part 12 – Viva Cuba! – What to Do: Day Beach Trips from Havana

  1. You’re right, Varadero has the best beaches (and hotels). Too bad you didn’t go, as if you made it to Matanzas, you weren’t that far away. Maybe next time? I don’t know about now but in the early 1990’s, Varadero was the Cuban gateway for Canadians and Europeans. From what you’ve written, seems to me Cuba today is much more expensive, touristy and worldly than it was then. I’m sure it will get even worse once the wave of Americans flood the country.

  2. Irresponsible

    Emily,
    You were approved by the US government to visit Cuba for limited purposes. None of those purposes include visiting beaches. You could be audited for what you have done, and that audit can come any time in the next 5 years. Worse, other people could follow your lead. You should remove this post.

  3. Irresponsible

    And if you don’t believe a reader:
    “Soaking up rays on the beach and sipping mojitos doesn’t cut it.” http://www.cnn.com/2015/07/17/travel/cuba-travel-feat/

    The article also notes that audits are unlikely. But when a person brags about taking advantage of locals (the snorkel rental business) and about spending 2 days at the beaches, you are more likely to get yourself in trouble.

  4. I agree with Irresponsible above. Your blog is fairly well known, and your promotion of an activity for which you were not approved (beach visits are outside any approved reason for a visit to Cuba) is problematic. Your post could land you and others following your example in trouble. This was not a well thought out post.

  5. I am a big fan of your blog, but unfortunately, your entire series on Cuba distorts what others can experience in this wonderful country: 1. You endorse activities (e.g., beach days and random city exploring) not allowed by 1 of the 12 allowed categories for visits by Americans; 2. You advise that travelers can freely select which category they qualify for, mixing and matching, but there are actually quite narrow definitions of each category and most Americans can only qualify to go under a people-to-people education exchange program; and 3. Food is quite amazing in Cuba but you did not visit or recommend a single one of those amazing restaurants (both paladar and official restaurants).