Jardines del Rey, Cayo Coco & Cayo Santa Maria, Cuba beach vacation guide
Central Cuba is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in Cuba and chains of islands with fantastical names like "Gardens of the King." Here, you can relax on remote stretches of white sand with only a flock of flamingos for company and wade out through crystal-clear waters. Our deal experts have put together some of their favourite beach destinations in the unique cayos of Central Cuba.
Jardines del Rey
For beach lovers and nature fans alike, there's so much to love about the Jardines del Rey archipelago. The “Garden of the Kings” has a slightly more isolated and natural feel compared to Varadero. Located about half an hour from the Jardines del Rey airport, the area is an oasis of mangroves and exotic wildlife with more than 200 species of birds. You’ll see flamingos and spoonbills flying overhead, and the white ibis, known as “coco,” is what gave Cayo Coco its name. The cays and resort areas are protected by a 400-kilometre coral reef barrier, which means calm waters for families, snorkelers and divers. Separated from the mainland by a long man-made causeway, the cayos are tucked away with stunning unspoiled beaches.
Travelzoo tip: A cayo, or a "cay/key" in English, is a low-lying island formed on coral soil, and is very common throughout the Caribbean.
Cayo Coco and Cayo Guillermo
Cayo Coco and Cayo Guillermo are the most developed of some 400 large islands and small keys. East of Cayo Coco, Cayo Romando and Cayo Paredon Grande have been marked as the next islands for hotel development, so keep an eye on Travelzoo's deals.
Cayo Coco is one of the largest islands in the archipelago, and is a top beach destination in Cuba. Cayo Coco’s coast is made up of 11 white-sand beaches: so if you’ve got time, try to visit them all. Some of the best beaches include Las Colouradas, enjoyed by many watersport enthusiasts, Playa Prohibida, featuring sand dunes up to 15 metres high, Playa Larga, one of the more touristy beaches with beautiful sunrises, and Playa Flamencos, with waters perfect for snorkeling.
Ernest Hemingway wrote "The Old Man and the Sea" and "Islands in the Stream" at Cayo Guillermo. This island is a perfect getaway for those looking for a bit of peace and quiet: the five kilometres of beach have lovely all-inclusive resorts, but are still more untouched than other destinations. Scuba diving and snorkeling along the coral reefs is a great way to spend the day, but the island also has lagoons, forests and jungles. Playa Pilar is considered one of the most beautiful beaches in Cuba, while Playa del Paso is the longest beach at Cayo Guillermo. Be sure to make a trip out to Laguna Flamingos, located at the cayo's southern tip.
Travelzoo tip: This area is home to one of the largest concentrations of pink flamingos in the Caribbean; if you're lucky, you may see a flamboyance of flamingos taking flight.
Cayos of Villa Clara
The three Cayos de Villa Clara make up much of the Jardines del Rey archipelago: Cayo Santa Maria, Cayo Las Brujas and Cayo Ensenachos.
Cayo Santa Maria is part of the UNESCO-listed Buenavista Biosphere Reserve, and as one of the island’s newest areas for resorts and vacations, it's replete with stretches of white sand, warm waters and coral reefs. There is blessedly little to see or do here, with the main attraction being its 13-kilometre stretch of fine sandy beaches. The island is a stunning juxtaposition of mangroves and beach: soft sand dominates the northern coast of the island while the south coast is dense forest, salt marshes and mangroves.
It takes about 90 minutes by road to reach Cayo Santa Maria from the nearest international airport. Most hotels here are all-inclusive resorts with private beaches. Playa Santa Maria is the largest beach, and home to most of the all-inclusive resorts. Other beaches that we recommend are Las Gaviotas and Playa Perla Blanca, which remain mostly untouched.
Cayo Las Brujas has the only marina in the area, as well as wallet-friendly hotels and resorts. This island is only seven square-kilometres, but it provides a great place to call home as you explore other cayos in the area.
Cayo Ensenachos is a must-visit cayo for two beautiful beaches, Playa Ensenachos and Playa Megano. The horseshoe-shaped keys have very gently sloping beaches, which means you can wade out to 90 meters in calm, crystal clear waters.
Cayo Largo del Sur, also known as Cayo Largo, is a paradise-like island with some of the best beaches in the area. (We know, we’ve said this a million times in this post already, but it's true!) Diving, deep-sea fishing and swimming with dolphins are popular activities, and with over 30 dive sites, you'll have plenty to do.
There are 26 kilometres of beaches on the island’s circumference (including some nudist beaches), but any mention of Cayo Largo would not be complete without waxing lyrical about Playa Paraiso, Paradise Beach. This idyllic slice of nature has fairly shallow waters — you’ll need to wade out 60-70 metres to get deeper, which is reassuring if you're travelling to Cuba with kids. Within walking distance is Playa Sirena, the widest beach in Cayo Largo. The numerous palm trees along the sand give travellers ample shade against the sun.
Camaguey is the largest province in Cuba, and has two must-visit Cuba beach destinations. Playa Santa Lucia is 20 kilometres of sugar-soft sand, and is right next to one of the largest coral reefs in the Atlantic. It's home to over 500 tropical fish species, but more interestingly for some, there are 27 sunken ships to explore. Go spot flamingos at el Real in your spare time. Slightly more remote is Playa Los Cocos, with a secret hideaway feel to the beach.
Another popular destination is Cayo Sabinal, a secluded island with a stunning beach. Located 25 kilometres west of Santa Lucia, all its beaches are located on the north end of the cayo. Playa Los Pinos is the longest beach and is notable for the nearby woodlands, which have deer, boar, and even wild horses.