Cuba is famous for its all-inclusive holiday resorts where sun, sea, sand, food and entertainment are available around the clock.
The largest of Caribbean islands, Cuba offers a wide range of accommodation, from moderately priced all-inclusives with a handful of facilities, through to exclusive garden villas with private pools, VIP treatment, and butler service.
The most famous beach resort in Cuba is Varadero, one of the largest resorts in the Caribbean, located just a little more than an hour east of Havana and packed full of attractive accommodation. Here, the 21 kilometres of pristine white sand - Cuba's first prime holiday spot - are lined with more than 40 all-inclusive hotels. The larger, newer, more attractive, and better equipped hotels are found closer to the eastern tip of the peninsula at Punta Hicacos.
Approximately one hour east of Havana, just before reaching Varadero, you will find the very attractive Breezes Jibacoa, a solitary small hotel resort sitting in its own pretty cove, ideal for those seeking more seclusion and intimacy who want to avoid the big tourist crowds in Varadero.
Further east along the northern coastline, some five hours from Havana, is the small, but rapidly developing offshore key of Cayo Santa Maria with 10 all-inclusive hotels spread out on a sprinkling of coral islets located north of the town of Remedios, in the central province of Villa Clara. Further east along the coast, in the Jardines del Rey archipelago, are the well-known islands of Cayo Coco and Cayo Guillermo, both palm-fringed isles with long-established all-inclusive beachfront hotels.
Also on the north coast, in the far east of the country, is the low-key, picturesque resort area of Guardalavaca with some of Cuba's most beautiful and serene beaches lapped by emerald seas. Guardalavaca features a series of golden crescents and hidden coves with just seven large all-inclusive hotels.
Cuba's most attractive beach resort on the southern coast is 12 kilometres south of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Trinidad at Playa Ancon. The thin, sandy peninsula is dotted with a handful of hotels and plans for more hotels are underway.
Cast adrift in the turquoise Caribbean, beneath the main island of Cuba, is the resort island of Cayo Largo known for its outstanding dazzling white sand beaches, ‘clothing optional' beach policy, and endemic wildlife that includes pelicans, crocodiles, cranes, curious bird species, a turtle sanctuary and iguanas. Only accessible by air, it offers six all-inclusive hotels with more beach resort openings in the pipeline.
What to do and sights to See
Cuba's all-inclusive resorts are found across the entire archipelago. Choosing the right one for your all-inclusive holiday will depend on price, location, airport access, activities and your personal holiday interests. Varadero (with its own international airport) offers the most leisure options and entertainment venues and, along with Jibacoa, is close to Havana, the exciting cultural and political capital of Cuba. Low-key Guardalavaca, and the popular keys of Cayo Coco and Cayo Guillermo are also close to international airports, and within a few hours' drive of some of the island's most picturesque towns and lush countryside. Cayo Santa Maria is a little more isolated but day trips to Remedios and Santa Clara are easily organised. Playa Ancon combines a sunshine holiday with culture, music and dancing in nearby Trinidad, an amazingly well-preserved 19th-century Spanish colonial town and UNESCO World Heritage Site. Cayo Largo is nicely isolated from the crowds but also from authentic Cuban culture and is serviced by an international airport.
Varadero and Jibacoa
There are plenty of all-inclusive hotels in Varadero offering a wide variety of choice to holidaymakers. Some of the best all-inclusives include the Paradisus Varadero Resort and Spa, the adults-only Paradisus Princesa del Mar, the family friendly five-star Iberostar Varadero, the adults-only Sandals Royal Hicacos, and the new Melia Marina Varadero on Varadero's tip at Punta Hicacos. These resorts offer spas, non-motorised watersports, land sports, entertainment, and multiple top quality restaurant choices that are all included in the price.
The Breezes Jibacoa, on the other hand, is an adults-only resort with an intimate, low-slung layout, attentive staff, lovely pool and Jacuzzi. It's set on its own beach cove at Arroyo Bermejo with a coral reef just off-shore making it one of Cuba's most outstanding all-inclusive resorts.
Cayo Santa Maria is the newest beach resort destination in Cuba that's expanding in size, year on year. Reached by a stone causeway north of Remedios in central Cuba, Cayo Santa Maria unfurls along pristine coral islands and sparkling white sands. Also known as the Villa Clara Keys, this island resort, made up of little islets, boasts a marina, dolphinarium and a faux Spanish town, Pueblo La Estrella, complete with a spa, gym, restaurants, bowling alley, discos, and a bandstand. Cayo Santa Maria's most attractive resorts are the Iberostar Ensenachos and the adults-only Melia Buenavista.
Palm-fringed Cayo Coco and Cayo Guillermo, in the Jardines del Rey archipelago, are lined with more than 15 all-inclusive hotels offering non-motorised watersports, land sports, entertainment, and plentiful restaurant choices all included in the price. Cayo Guillermo is the smaller island, with just four all-inclusive resorts, a dolphinarium, kite-surfing opportunities, a marina, and access to one of Cuba's most stunning beaches, Playa Pilar. Cayo Coco, featuring the Spa Talasa Cayo Coco complex, is the larger island boasting bigger crescents of postcard-perfect sands. The adults-only Melia Cayo Coco is the outstanding all-inclusive resort here. Both islands are reached by a stone causeway from the mainland which makes them accessible by car; the international airport sits on Cayo Coco.
The beach town of Guardalavaca comprises a small group of all-inclusive resorts dotted along the sandy dunes and coves of Cuba's eastern coast. From west to east they include Playa Pesquero, Playa Costa Verde, Playa Yuraguanal, Playa Esmeralda and Playa Guardalavaca. One of the best all-inclusive resorts in Cuba - the adults-only Paradisus Rio de Oro Resort and Spa - is a luxury all-inclusive hotel at Playa Esmeralda. The large hotel Playa Pesquero, and the well-run Brisas Guardalavaca are also highly regarded all-inclusive resorts. These resorts are reached by a good main road north of Holguin city; the international airport at Holguin is one hour's drive from Guardalavaca.
The long, thin sandy peninsula of Playa Ancon, just south of the beautiful UNESCO World Heritage Site city of Trinidad, is favoured by many holidaymakers who like to combine beach tourism with cultural exploration. Playa Ancon is perfect for this holiday combination as it's located less than 15 minutes south of the city on Cuba's southern Caribbean coast. With just a handful of resorts there, the best all-inclusive resort is Hotel Brisas Trinidad del Mar with its attractive architecture imitating the colonial style of nearby Trinidad. A new Melia Trinidad with 400 rooms will join the handful of hotels on Ancon in 2015.
The picturesque coral islands of Cayo Largo del Sur, scattered off the southern coast of Cuba, sit pretty in the pristine sapphire waters of the Caribbean. The area is home to marine turtles, dolphins and iguanas. This is gorgeous beach tourism only, and the area is well known to naturists for its ‘clothing optional' policy, which covers several beaches. The best all-inclusive resort here is the Sol Cayo Largo. Cayo Largo can only be reached by international and domestic flights.
Other tips and practical info
Cuba's all-inclusive resorts are geared up for holidaymakers to have a fun and relaxing time under the tropical sun. Choosing from the wealth of options needs research. If you want to spend your entire holiday on the beach, location is not necessarily important as all of Cuba's major resort beaches are pristine and beautiful. Choosing an all-inclusive near a Cuban town is a great choice for those wanting sun, sea, sand and culture. Some hotels offer more all-inclusive facilities than others; some are large complexes while others have more intimate settings. The weather, costs, and tourism high and low seasons, also need to be factored into holiday decisions.
Location, location, location.
Check out the location of your chosen all-inclusive beach resort in Cuba. Some are close to international airports avoiding long transfer times; others are near cultural and musical entertainment centres in the island's towns and cities; and some resorts require time and effort to leave the beach areas either via organised excursions or by independent car hire.
Large and small all-inclusive Cuban resorts
Holidaymakers to Cuba's all-inclusive resorts need to think about the size of the resort complex, too. Some all-inclusive resorts are huge requiring golf buggies to cover great distance while others are much more intimate, with smaller layouts. The larger the hotel, the more activities there are to enjoy, and more new friends to make. But, those seeking a quieter holiday, without too much resort walking, should consider their preferences at a smaller retreat.
Getting around Cuba's all-inclusive resorts
Many of Cuba's beach resort areas feature tourist buses that transfer holidaymakers between hotels and local attractions. To get further off the beaten track, bicycle and scooter hire is available at all hotels. For exploring further afield, car hire is a good option, especially for families. It's always wise to pack your driving license just in case.
Best time of year to holiday in Cuba's all-inclusive beach resorts
Cuba's tourism high season runs from November to April, and from July to August. During these periods, prices are at their highest when demand is high and the all- inclusive resorts typically run at their fullest capacity. Shoulder seasons are good options for holidaymakers, especially in May when deals are often good. Hurricane season runs from June-October. Guardalavaca is best avoided in May when there are often heavy downpours. In general, holidaymakers should not avoid Cuba's rainy season. Tropical downpours are heavy but are quickly over. Before you know it the sun is out shining again.
What to pack
Most of Cuba's all-inclusive beach resorts are stocked with shops selling toiletries, souvenirs, sun cream, towels, t-shirts, caps, sarongs and limited swimwear. It's best, though, to bring everything you need with you. These items include snorkel and mask, inflatables, calamine lotion and essential medicines. If you have a preferred brand of sun cream you will need to pack it with you.