Playas del Este (Havana’s East Beaches)
line the northern coast of the island just east of the city. Bacuranao, Mégano, Santa María, Boca Ciega and Guanabo are among the most popular of the east beaches. Havana’s shoreline is more than 60 miles of white sand beach with warm turquoise water. There are numerous scuba diving centers and options for accommodations. Varadero and other resort areas attract more attention for their pristine beaches partly because they cater to tourists and have much nicer hotels and facilities, but there are some lovely spots along Havana’s coast just 20-30 minutes from the city.
The first stop of interest along the coast after you go through the tunnel leaving Havana and heading east is Playa Bacuranao, located 12 km from the city just east of Alamar. This beach is very popular among locals. Food, drinks and bungalow-type accommodations are available at the Villa Islazul Bacuranao. Coral grows abundantly in this area, making it a good location for snorkeling, but its main attraction is its proximity to Alamar and downtown Havana.
Next is Tarará, a small resort complex with a Marina and cute beach that meets up with the mouth of the River Tarará. This channel has excellent snorkeling and scuba diving and is known for its nearby coral seabed bursting with colorful fish. Services include sailing, fishing and scuba diving. This hidden villa area has a long and interesting history, including being where Che went to convalesce after grueling battles in the Sierra Maestra. The villa was also converted to a treatment center, which housed and treated thousands of young victims of the 1988 Chernobyl nuclear disaster in the Ukraine, free of charge.
My favorite beach in Havana is Playa Mégano. There are lots of amenities like shaded palapas, tasty filet of fish and lobster served at a table brought to you on the beach, saoco (rum and coconut milk) and live music. There’s a lot going on but it’s not as touristy and crowded as Santa María del Mar, the largest and most popular beach in Playas del Este. Santa María is starting to become known as the “Disco Beach,” probably because it’s almost always packed with people listening to loud, recorded music, and it is a bit of a pick up scene. It’s too crowded for me, but it became so popular because it is the most naturally beautiful part of Havana’s coastline. Most of the tourist facilities of the east beach area, including water sports, bars and hotels, can be found here.
Playa Boca Ciega begins east of the Río Itabo Estuary and is popular with Cuban families because they can rent “cabinas” in the residential and rental complex also called Boca Ciega. This beach merges eastward into Playa Guanabo, which is 27 km east of Havana. It is the least attractive beach in Playas del Este but it runs for several kilometers along the shorefront of the town of Guanabo, a cute little village of plantation-style wooden homes. This is really the only area in the east beaches where the town itself sits at the coastline. The biggest benefit of Guanabo is the ability to go stay in a casa particular (private house) right on the beach. There are shops, restaurants, bars and discos. If you head inland of Guanabo to the Mirador de Bellomonte, there’s a little café and bar where you can have a drink and catch some great views of the beaches below. It’s open from 2:00pm to 2:00 am daily.
Transportation to Playas del Este: I say take a taxi! A taxi costs about $12 to get to Mégano from the city, $15–20 if you are going to Santa María or further. There are buses that go all the way to Guanabo. It’s really cheap, but by the time you wait in the line and get there on the bus, it can take up to 2 hours as opposed to a 30-minute drive. Take the #400 bus if you want to try public transportation. It leaves from Havana Vieja (corner of Gloria and Agramonte - near the main train station) about every 30 minutes.
in the province (rural part) of Havana, are 3 little beaches, Tropico, Puerto Escondido and the most beautiful of the three, Jibacoa. The fine white sand beaches are bordered on one side by lush vegetation and cliffs up to 300 feet high, and on the seaward side by clear turquoise water.
West of Havana
is the Marina Hemingway, which offers the most complete range of marine facilities in the country. Still further west, but still in the Havana province is El Salado, which is known for its scuba diving sites and protected coral reefs.