Havana Day Trips
Playas del Este © Judith Duk
Playas del EsteTwenty-five minutes east of Havana are the Playas del Este, a chain of sandy beaches stretching for six miles (10km) between Bacuranao and Guanabo. On the weekends, they are generally packed with Cubans escaping the city. There are a few tourist hotels lining the coast, but other than that facilities are limited. For those who need an escape from the city the beaches make a good day trip; however, those expecting pristine tropical island beaches might be disappointed. The ocean is still unbelievably inviting, with clear, warm turquoise water, but the beaches themselves tend to suffer from all the rubbish left by the crowds. During the week the beaches are much quieter and cleaner so that is the time to go if you want a solitary, peaceful experience. There are a number of pristine 'tourist' beaches in Cuba but the Playas del Este are fun because they offer a more genuine experience of the festive Cuban beach lifestyle; if you want to mix with locals and enjoy people watching then this is the perfect place to park your towel. There are usually lots of vendors selling food and beer at reasonable prices on these beaches and people are generally very friendly.
Address: Ave Las Terrazas e/11 y 12, La Habana del Este
Bay of Pigs Museum © Panther
Bay of Pigs MuseumIn April 1961, the United States (under the auspices of the CIA) launched an attack on Fidel Castro's government, attempting to overthrow it by securing the beach-head at Playa Gíron. The 'Bay of Pigs' invasion, as it has come to be known, was a humiliating failure for the US, only serving to strengthen the Cuban people's support of Castro. Today, the fascinating Bay of Pigs Museum (Muséo Playa Gíron) stands as a simple record of the Cuban force's victory. Visitors can view maps and displays detailing the course of events as they transpired, as well as actual planes flown by the Cuban army during the siege, fragments of shot-down enemy planes, tanks, mortars and machine guns used in the battle, plus much more. There is also a touching exhibition of photographs and biographies of the 156 Cuban soldiers that were killed during the invasion. Anyone with even a passing interest in modern history - or how US foreign policy has shaped the world in which we live - will find the Bay of Pigs Museum utterly enthralling. Budget at least two hours to take it all in.
Address: Playa Gíron
Cayo Largo Del Sur © Dnllnd
Cayo Largo Del SurOne hundred and ten miles (177km) southeast of Havana is the popular diving and snorkelling paradise of Cayo Largo. The island offers about 16 miles (26km) of white sand and crystal sea, where it is possible to swim and dive among grottos and sandy valleys full of crustaceans, sponges, coral and fish of every hue, shape and size. There are other numerous smaller cays accessible from the beach, each with their own natural treasures such as Cayo Iguanas, an isolated spot inhabited by iguanas. The living coral reef is also a big draw for visitors. It is possible to rent motorcycles, bicycles, horses and watersports equipment to make the most of a visit to Cayo Largo, which can be reached by yacht, or by daily air connection from Havana. Cayo Del Sur is the second biggest island in Cuba's Canarreos Archipelago and it has many special beaches to choose from. Nudity is permitted on the island and some of the beaches are frequented by nudists. The island is said to have been used as a base by pirates but now it is a tourist haven; there are a number of all-inclusive resort hotels on the island which has no permanent inhabitants unless you count hotel staff.
Varadero © Wilder Mendez
VaraderoWith 22 miles (36km) of sandy, white, palm-fringed beach, Varadero Beach has often been referred to as one of the world's most beautiful. The incredibly clear water makes for amazing diving, fishing and snorkelling opportunities, and children splashing around will even be able to spot some fantastic fish with the naked eye. Glass-bottomed boat companies abound here too. Varadero Beach is a wonderful place to spend the day and an absolute must-visit while in Cuba. Varadero is situated on a spit of land that reaches out into the Atlantic, a two-hour drive to the east of Havana. There are 23 world-renowned dive spots along this stretch of beach and dive centres providing lessons and equipment. There is also deep sea fishing, windsurfing, parasailing, kayaking and sailing to be enjoyed. Outside of the water there are also numerous restaurants, cabaret spots, nightclubs, land sport opportunities, a skydiving centre, golf courses, and much more. The hotels in Varadero, Cuba's most popular beach resort, are some of the best in the Caribbean. Al Capone used to make this his holiday hideaway when taking a break from racketeering in Chicago. There are a number of big shopping complexes and artisan markets that sell a wide variety of souvenirs. There are also many bars and restaurants in Varadero, and it isn't hard to find live music. Whether you are visiting for a day on the beach, or staying at the resort for a holiday, Varadero is unmatched in Cuba for its natural beauty and its touristic facilities.