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The Playas del Este – Bathing on the beach of Havana

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Letztes Update: 24. May 2021

The beaches of Havana – after the city, take a trip to the beach!

If you ever want to get stranded in Havana – go to the beach 😉 – I recommend an excursion to the Playas del Este, Havana’s beaches. When you think of Havana, you don’t immediately think of the beach, but more of city excursions. Remember: since you are on an island, the beach is not far away.

Update: the beach disappears Hurricane Irma, dammed rivers, sand mining? Anyway, in some places the Playas del Este have almost disappeared:

On some places, the beach is barely 3 meters wide!

The beach or beaches

Die Playa del Este im Osten von Havanna
The Playas del Este in the east of Havana

The Playas del Este is the beach of Havana. Just outside of Havana, and just outside of Alamar, there is a touristy town with a beautiful Caribbean sandy beach, called Playas del Este (= the beaches of the east) – because they are located in the east of Havana. Usually, there are not many people around. You have a lot of space and you always get an umbrella (for 2 CUC). There are restaurants and several small supermarkets (one near the end of the bus, the other at Hotel MarAzul Tropicoco), where you can get cold water and beer for the beach. Furthermore, resourceful Cubans walk up and down the beach and sell coconuts filled with rum 😉

The Playas del Este

Actually, there is only one beach, which stretches over 12 kilometers in total, but is divided into different individual beaches (hence “Playas”, i.e. plural):

  • From Playa Tarará,
  • Playa Mégano,
  • Playa Santa María,
  • Playa Boca Ciega,
  • Playa Guanabo,
  • Playa Veneciana until
  • Playa Rincón de Guanabo

By the way, Playa Tarará used to be the student accommodation where the school trips went when there was still money and gas for such things. Later the “Chernobyl children” were treated here and even later Chinese contract workers were accommodated here. I do not know what is happening in Tarará, but it looks deserted.

Screenshot der Playas del Este von Open Street Map
Map of the Playas del Este at OpenStreetMap

How to get there: Bus, car, Amendrón, train?

Foto des Stadions für die Panamerikanischen Spiele auf dem Weg Havannas Strand
Stadium for the Pan American Games on the way to Havana’s beach

Since the Playa del Este is in Havana, but not just around the corner, you have to drive there by motor – you can’t swim at the Malecón 😉 There are several options:

  1. Rental car: clearly the best solution – if you have a rental car.
  2. Taxi: is especially useful if you want to go to the beach with four or five people. In this case, the price of 20 – 25 CUC per way can be distributed amongst the passengers.
  3. Bus: from the Capitolio/Parque Central (in Google Maps) a tourist bus goes to the beach. The trip costs 5 CUC round trip. Unfortunately, the bus only runs about every 40 minutes and is always full. Especially on the return trip in the evening, which can lead to many problems. So if in doubt, allow plenty of time for the outward and return journey. Therefore, my tip for all bus goers is: in any case go to the final station and walk from there to the beach, there, Playa del Este is also the most beautiful. In the evenings, it is almost hopeless to drive back to Havana from any other station besides the final station. And as the last bus leaves at approximately 5 to 6 p.m., one can easily get stranded at the beach 😉
  4. A lo Cubano, i.e. with the Almendrón (=collective taxi): for the very creative there is also the possibility to get to the beach with the collective taxis. This requires a little bit of local knowledge, Spanish is also helpful – and above all you need time. The starting point of the taxis in Havana is the Parque de Los Agrimensores, which is at the corner of Agramonte/Calle Misión (in Google Maps). For 1 CUC you have to go in the direction of Guanabo until the bus stop El Trébol (Vía Blanca/Avenida Amanecer – in Google Maps). Advantage of this option: You get closer to the Cubans than with the other solutions. However, the lack of fuel generally means that fewer shared taxis are used – so it gets a bit more complicated. But maybe this problem will be solved with the new Russian vans.
  5. By train: Recently, there is a train from Havana’s main station to the Playas in the morning (8:17 am), which returns in the evening (6:05 pm). But this is not one of the new Chinese trains, but an old one with wooden seats – so even in the train you go to the beach a lo Cubano 😉 The price is accordingly also within limits with 1 Peso Cubano – not a CUC!
Foto: Playa del Este - Der Strand Havannas
Playa del Este – The beach of Havana

Stay overnight in Santa María

Foto: Liegestühle an Havannas Strand, mit Blick aufs MeerOne can of course also stay overnight in Santa María, but there is not much going on there. Santa María is a sleepy tourist town. There are 2-3 small supermarkets, a few restaurants, and many apartment buildings, that’s it. Self-catering in a Casa Particular is a little bit difficult, you are more or less permanently dependent on restaurants or snack bars.

So it would be a possibility to see if you can find an all-inclusive hotel in Santa María – there are some. Then you will save yourself the stress of chasing food. Also the umbrellas are included in the price 😉 So you should see if there are any bargains, because otherwise you will have to pay a lot of money for a mediocre standard.

Therefore weigh up: well-kept Casa Particular and go out for dinner or expensive hotel with all-inclusive – both have advantages and disadvantages. And if you want to have a longer beach holiday, you should go to Varadero anyway, also only 2 hours drive from Havana.

The weekend – the Cubans celebrate on the beach

If you go to the Playas del Este on weekends, it’s full of Cubans. Most Cubans have the weekend off and go to the beach. And what does it take for a Cuban to celebrate? Rum and Regueton! So if you prefer to spend a quiet time at the beach, then you shouldn’t go on weekends. On the other hand, if you want to be right in the middle of Cuban life, you will enjoy the atmosphere 🙂

The beach and the weather

The sun burns hot in Cuba, much hotter than here, of course. Therefore always rent an umbrella, use a lot of sunscreen and don’t stay too long on the beach. A t-shirt for bathing has also proved to be a good idea, as well as a hat or a baseball cap if you – like me – don’t have so much hair on your head anymore 😉

Foto: aufziehende Wolken landseitig am Playa del Este

There is a tendency to get more rain in the afternoon, especially in the sultry months around September.

The advantage is of course that it has to be cloudy before the rain and we don’t burn so much! The only thing that is important is to make the jump in time before the rain starts and to get a taxi from the Playas del Este to Havana.

By the way, for Cubans there is nothing worse than waves and as soon as there is a bit more movement in the water, the red flag hangs outside. But most people don’t mind that. Probably the red flag just means that the waves are so high that they can spill into your rum cup – and that would be devastating 😉

Supply at Playa del Este

Deck chair and umbrella

You can rent both lounge chairs and umbrellas for about 2 CUC. You can also buy umbrellas made from palm leaves for 10 CUC.

Food and drinks

Foto von Lianet, mit einer Trink-Kokosnuss am Strand von Havanna
Lianet with drinking coconut

You can order food and drinks from the umbrella operators, they will bring everything to you – of course with a certain surcharge, but you don’t have to move out of your chair for it 😉

Behind the dunes there are small snack bars where you can get typical Cuban food, sometimes in cardboard boxes – that’s what most locals eat. By the way, there are no forks. Either you make a spoon out of the lid of the “Cajita” or you eat A Lo Cubano i.e. with your identity card 😉

Across the street, there are also some restaurants with average food at average prices.

At some stalls, you can get a fresh Piña Colada for about 2 CUC, very tasty! Also recommendable are the beach are the vendors who walk along the beach with coconuts and rum. The coconut is whipped with a machete, you drink some coconut water and then you fill up with rum – great 😀

Otherwise you can get drinks and cookies in the supermarkets. A nice cold beer at the beach, that’s something in any case!

How safe is the beach?

By “safe” I don’t mean how dangerous the beach is, but whether you can leave things out on the beach. Basically, there are many police officers patrolling all Cuban beaches – even in summer, the poorest ones! – so that there are no major problems. However: my wife (Cuban) always insists that someone guards the things, it’s just like everywhere else: opportunity makes thieves. So make sure that someone is always close to your beach stuff, don’t take too valuable things with you, and if you all want to go into the water, ask other tourists to watch your stuff!

Climate change at the Playas del Este

The Playas del Este is not in good condition at the moment: the sand is disappearing. Why this is so, I can only guess – there are many reports about disappearing beaches – but the fact is: at the Hotel Mar Azul Tropicoco, the beach is maybe still 2-3 meters wide, there, the chairs are already in the water due to lack of space.

At other places, the beach is indeed still wider, but the palm stumps rising out of the surf show quite clearly how the water has risen.

Possible reasons for the loss of the beach

  1. Hurricane Irma: one of the possible reasons for the loss of so much sand could have been the last hurricane, Irma. The hurricanes of the years before didn’t hit Havana that hard, Irma was right there. So maybe Irma’s extreme currents devastated the beach.
  2. Dammed rivers: it’s popular all over the world to get electricity from water. One of the problems is that no sand is delivered over the riverbed. So the sea robs the sand, the rivers do not supply the sand. The consequence is that the beach becomes smaller. I assume that in Cuba, too, rivers are dammed up massively and that on the other hand there is no infrastructure to bring the sand that accumulates to the beach – as they do in Miami, for example.
  3. Sand mining: in Miami, for example, sand from the region is not used at all, but sand is bought on the world market. There is an unbelievable worldwide demand for sand, not only to repair beaches but above all for the production of concrete, the number one building material. How far sand sales in Cuba are, I cannot say. I assume that not much sand is mined simply because of the poor infrastructure, but these are only guesses.
  4. Manfred from “Cuba – Pearl of the Caribbean” has another reason, namely the sea level: the sea level is currently rising by 2 mm per year, which causes waves and currents to change. The beach is being eroded and can only be maintained artificially.

There may be other reasons why Cuba’s beaches are running out of sand – not only the Playas del Este are affected, Varadero also has less sand. But I don’t know exactly why either. If you have any ideas, just comment.

Because of the erratic development I would guess that Irma was responsible for the devastation of the Playas del Este. Before, the beach was slowly getting smaller, but the jump from 2017 to 2018 was huge. If the slow loss of the beaches coincides with a natural disaster, then the effects are of course particularly drastic.

Conclusion: beach holidays in Havana

It doesn’t always have to be Varadero or the Cayos. Especially if one is on a city holiday, then it is also possible to relax at Playa del Este on the same trip, put up the tired legs and lay the belly in the sun. And also do a little bit for your tan, you don’t want to embarrass yourself when you get back home 😉 The Playas del Este is a good choice for this, not too crowded, quickly accessible – and of course Caribbean fine sand.

Basically you should prefer the eastern part of the Playas because they are a.) empty and b.) it is a bigger sandy beach so that it looks like the Caribbean and not the Mediterranean on the photos. That means you have to drive to the end station of the bus or even further by car because it is simply nicer – don’t get off at MarAzul Tropicoco!

If you don’t have a rental car, but take the bus or even the Almendrón to the playa, then you should plan some time, because it takes time to get to the beach. Also important: especially the way back in the evening can be a bit difficult, so you should always have 20 – 30 CUC for a taxi.

Well, this week the weather is bad here, so let’s dream about the Caribbean beach!

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