Playas del Este
The mile's long Playas del Este are the city beaches of the Cuban capital. The very beautiful sandy beaches are located a good 20 km east of the city center and are a popular recreational destination. While Cubans visit the beaches more frequently during the summer months and especially on weekends, winter visitors are mostly rare. What to expect at the beaches, how best to get there and what else to consider when visiting, you will learn in this article.
A number of different beach sections belong to the Playas del Este, which extend over an area of about ten kilometers in length. While parts of the extensive beaches are very beautiful, other sections are not as nice. The most famous sections are the Playa Santa Maria and the Playa Guanabo.
From a tourist viewpoint, Playa Santa Maria del Mar is certainly the most important section. It is not only the longest, but also the most beautiful and the most suitable section for swimming. The beach is wide, there are very charming dunes with lots of white Caribbean sand and also some shadowing palm trees. In summer, many residents from Havana come, so it sometimes gets quite crowded. On these days, there is a flair that reminds a bit of Rio de Janeiro's Copacabana. During the winter, on the other hand, hardly any visitors show up. While the beach in Varadero is crowded with beachgoers, it is not uncommon to have the Playas del Este almost to oneself.
What to expect
Not far from the beach in Santa Maria there are several larger state hotels and also a few guest houses. Apart from these facilities, however, there is hardly any other (tourist) infrastructure.
A little further to the east, you will find the Playa Guanabo which is less beautiful and also less suitable for swimming – but still a nice Caribbean beach. Behind the beach lays Guanabo, which is an independent small town with population of about thirty thousand inhabitants. Despite being thirty kilometers from the city center, Guanabo is officially a district of the Cuban capital.
On the way between Santa Maria and Guanabo, one (inevitably) passes by the Gay Beach, which is located near the mouth of the small river Rio Boca Chica and is therefore called Playa Boca Chica. Here there is also a lagoon where the small island Mi Cayito is located, where you can visit a simple restaurant.
Beware of your valuables & red flags
On Havana's beaches, you should take care of your valuables or leave them better at your accommodation, especially when it is crowded. Umbrellas and sunbeds can be rented, whereby two sunbeds and one umbrella will cost 5 USD. If you do not want sunbeds, you should have enough sun protection with you, because there are very few shady places.
If a red flag is raised, it is better to avoid swimming. The Gulf Stream runs through the narrow Strait of Florida, which can cause strong currents that should not be underestimated. However, when the weather is appropriate, what is luckily mostly the case, the Playas del Este are a wonderful place to swim and relax. The beaches are in no way inferior to the well-known Vardero Beach, but are almost a bit more beautiful due to the dunes and, as described, often even not as full.
Eat, Drink & Restrooms
In Santa Maria you will find some simple snack bars and kiosks (see below), but they usually have neither good quality nor an attractive selection. In Guanabo, the supply situation is somewhat better, since more people live in the village and therefore there is a larger variety of shops. At none of the beaches you will find public toilets or showers, but there are guarded parking lots.
Beach segments in detail
There are five main beach sections in Playas del Este. Among them are Playa Santa Maria, Guanabo & Boca Chica, the beach at Marina Marlin Tarará and Playa Bacuranao.
- Santa Maria del Mar is one of the most beautiful and therefore most visited sections on Playas del Este. Not far from the beach are three major all-inclusive hotels, the MarAzul Hotel, the Gran Caribe Club Atlantico and the Hotel Bravo Arenal. At the beach there is guarded parking, a small supermarket and also several simple snack bars (Ranchon de Mojito & Don Pepe). Sunbeds and umbrellas are available at the Beach Bar, at the western end of the section, but also further west.
- The Guanabo section runs along the town of the same name. The beach itself is quite beautiful, but sometimes a bit dirty and rocky. In addition, the beach slopes very slowly in many places, so that the water is not deep enough for swimming. In Guanabo there are many casa particulares and stores, most of them are located in the main street (5th avenue).
- At the western end of Santa Maria beach, there is a small marina, which has its own small beach section. In the marina Marlin Tarará you have the possibility to rent a boat. The beach is manageable and has very calm, shallowly sloping water. Due to its sheltered location in a small bay, this beach is especially suitable for families with children. There are usually enough sunbeds and umbrellas available.
- The small Bacuranao beach is a little closer to Havana as Santa Maria and Gunanabo. The beach runs along a small bay, has shallow sloping water and is therefore excellent for swimming for children but also for snorkeling.
- Between the Santa Maria and Guanabo sections is the small Playa Boca Ciega, named after the small river of the same name that flows into the sea there. Part of the beach is the central meeting place of gays coming from the capital.
How to get to the Playa del Este
You can reach the beaches by public bus, by a tourist bus, by shared cab or, for most travelers, most comfortably by cab. For general information on how to get from A to B in the Cuban capital, see the article on transportation in Havana.
- The shared cabs leave from Parque de la Fraternidad (corner of Calle Estrella) to Guanabo. To find the right line, just ask for Guanabo. You can walk from Guanabo on the beach to Santa Maria or you get off at Via Blanca at the crossroads (see map below) and walk down the hill for about ten minutes. The fare is 1 USD per person per way.
- Much more convenient as a ride in a shared cab is the tourist bus T3, which departs from Parque Central (opposite the Inglaterra Hotel). The bus runs every 20 to 30 minutes and operates daily from 9 a.m. The buses are air-conditioned and go to Santa Maria beach. The bus makes a stop at the La Cabaña fortress, so it is a good idea to visit it. The ticket costs 10 USD for the round trip. More precisely, it is a day pass, with which the other lines of the tourist buses can also be used. You should make your way back before sunset, because the last buses leave around seven (summer) or six (winter) o'clock and are often overcrowded. It is therefore advisable to leave the beach beforehand, preferably not after five o'clock. The easiest way to get a seat on the bus is at the last stop (Hotel Atlantico). If you miss the bus or there is no free seat, you can try to go to Via Blanca and from there take a shared cab or a city bus back to the city.
- For a vintage cab that takes you to the beach (in normal condition, not the tourist drivers waiting at the Parque Central), you should calculate 10 to 20 USD. The way back can be a bit more expensive, depending on demand. Cubans usually do not pay more than 10 USD for the way. If you arrange a round trip with a driver, you should calculate around 30 USD. Modern state cabs can be a bit more expensive.
- If you want to take a regular public bus, take line 400 towards Guanabo, which leaves from the Parque de la Fraternidad, near the Capitolio. If you want to go to Santa Maria, get off at the right place on the street and walk down the slope (about 10-min walk). Alternatively, you can go off at Guanabo and walk along the beach for about 30 minutes to Santa Maria. The bus is often very crowded, so this option is only something for hardcore backpackers, but it is unbeatable cheap (1 CUP or 5 USD cents).
Walk from Via Blanca
If you're not staying in a hotel and therefore don't have a pool and you' d like to avoid the relatively long walk to the beach, you can use the pool at some hotels as a day guest - such as in the 5-star Hotel Meliá Cohiba in Vedado, for 5 USD per person.
Another option for bathing in Havana, however, with beach and ocean offers the Club Havana. Built in 1886, it once housed the Havana-Biltmore Yacht and Country Club, one of the city's finest addresses. Club Havana features a beautiful beach, two pools, a beach volleyball court, a gym, a restaurant and a disco. The club is also known for its exclusive cigar lounge (Casa del Habano).
The facilities can be visited for a daily price of 25 USD and 30 USD on weekends. The rate includes a consumption voucher worth 15 USD. Towels can be rented for a fee of 3 USD. Visitors often include international guests, especially diplomatic families that live in Havana. You should have at least a copy of your passport when entering.