The fourth best beach in the world

Monday, May 15th, 2017. Filed under: Cuba Destination Guides Legendary Landscapes

Playa Sirena, Cayo Largo, Cuba

Six of us got off the plane at the tiny airport in Cayo Largo del Sur, Cuba. It had taken two days to get there. Cubana Airlines scheduling problems delayed us overnight in Cayo Coco—hauling luggage and fighting for a place in the buffet line at a massive busy resort. Thirty minutes in the air the next morning got us to Cayo Largo, a blissfully unbusy island well worth the wait and effort to get there.

Cayo Largo is located 116 miles south of Havana, 340 miles east of Cancun, 160 miles north of the Cayman Islands. Map credit:

Ten minutes by bus later, we checked into our hotel, a charming intimate resort with a vintage-y feel and mostly-European clientele. In the open air lobby, delicate wrought iron chandeliers turned in the wind.  We followed the ocean breeze to a beach so stunning–well, here are the pictures. No filter necessary.

Playa Linda, pure delight.  Most of Cayo Largo’s few hotels are located here. What was the name of ours? Not telling.


Our travel travail was forgotten on on this blissful natural beach.  Cayo Largo’s topography is low and rocky, vegetation scrubby though resorts are lushly planted with palms.


Don’t let online reports of rampant nudism deter you from visiting Cayo Largo. The tiny Cuban island is world-famous among naturists, but end of season we pretty much had the beach to ourselves. 


Playa Linda has gorgeous jewel-bright water and powder white sand. Seaweed is raked and buried every morning, an ecologically friendlier way of dealing with it than bagging it in plastic and hauling away (as I’ve seen done in Cancun).


The water in Cayo Largo is excellent for swimming, when the surf and red flags aren’t up. 


Pristine ultra-fine sand on Cayo Largo.


You can read under a palapa on Playa Linda, if you can pull your gaze away from the saturated everchanging hues of the sea.  Other activities include pelican and hummingbird spotting, and listening to the hotel’s house band play romantic Cuban songs.

BUT seductive Playa Linda, we learned, is only the third best beach on Cayo Largo.  Undeveloped Playa Paraiso–accessible by an inexpensive cab ride or two hours walking along the beach–is surely first, having been rated fourth best beach in the world on the Independent’s list of Best Beaches in the World 2017.  Surreal Playa Sirena, though it has a ranchon restaurant and washrooms, also appears exquisitely deserted. In fact, the environment and waters of Cayo Largo are so pristine, an international convention of subaquatic photographers was held there the week before we arrived.  If you want to go snorkelling in Cayo Largo, you can visit several vibrant reefs on a catamaran day trip. A lobster-tail lunch and a visit to Iguana Island are included in the excursion.

Catamaran snorkelling day trip is a great tour on Cayo Largo, Cuba. Photo credit: Mario Capo


Relaxed lunch prep on the catamaran. Photo credit: Mario Capo


The exquisite shallow water and white shores of Cayo Largo del Sur, Cuba.  Photo credit:  Mario Capo


What makes a beach “the best”?  All depends what you’re looking for.  Welcome to Iguana Island, where dozens of huge iguanas live wild in sandy beach burrows.  Photo credit: Mario Capo


The sign back there says “Don’t Touch the Iguanas”. Photo credit: Mario Capo


Heading back to Cayo Largo marina on the catamaran. Photo credit: Mario Capo


Back at lovely Playa Linda, our “best beach” on Cayo Largo. Photo credit: Mario Capo

Cuba travel links:  

Cuba tourism authority in Canada


  • Many airlines (Air Canada, Air Transat, Sunwing) offer vacation packages to Cayo Largo, but not year round.  Despite the issues on our inbound flight, I have often flown with Cubana Airlines and this was the first time I’ve been delayed, so I’ll probably fly with them again.  I would not–like some travellers we met–take a chance on booking any return flight for the day before starting a new job, allowing minutes to make a connecting flight, etc.  Even if you’re accustomed to jumping holiday flights like buses, this trip reminded me that Caribbean destinations are international journeys.  Delays can happen.  As can weather.  Allow for it (i.e. pack several extra days’ worth of required medications, a little extra cash, your bathing suit and other essentials in your carry-on), and relax.
  • Cuba has reported no incidences of Zika virus.  Cayo Largo is dry, and mosquitoes were not a noticeable problem but we did use DEET on our ankles when wandering around at night.
  • Next time I’ll take some 100 SPF sunblock.  The temperatures in Cayo Largo were manageable, and there’s always a breeze, but we underestimated the sun.  White sand and water act as a mirror, especially when riding around on boats.  Take several strengths of sunblock, including one much stronger than you think you’ll ever need!

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