With all the politics, its unique, fascinating history and incredible architecture, it’s easy to forget that Cuba is a Caribbean island. Outside its cities and piped round its stunning countryside are some of the most exquisite beaches in the world. On our journey through Cuba, we’ve taken a bit of time out to relax and enjoy one of these beautiful beaches on the remote cay west of Havana: Cayo Levisa.
When you think of Cuba, your mind is filled with images of elegantly crumbling buildings, old American cars, cigars and perhaps Ernest Hemingway. One thing that is easy to forget is that Cuba is also home to some of the most beautiful beaches in the world.
On our journey from Viñales back to Havana, we decided to put in a bit of beach time and relax for a while. To be honest, we’re a little nervous of the beaches in Cuba. Not because of safety – Cuba’s one of the safest countries in the world for visitors.
Our first experience of a beach holiday in an part of Cuba called Varadero wasn’t great. In fact it’s one of the few places in Cuba we’d recommend against visiting. We’ve written about it for Y-Travel Blog here.
However, our time here on Cayo Levisa was a long way from the horrors of the resort nightmare in Varadero. Here’s what it’s like on Cayo Levisa and what you can expect.
Cayo Levisa is a beautiful little cay in the Pinar del Rio Province somewhere on the north coast between Viñales and Havana. It’s only accessible by boat and there’s only one place to stay.
But after you’ve checked in and you get to the beach, you realise what all the effort is for. The beach and the water is absolutely drop dead, mind-blowingly, tongue-lollingly stunning.
It’s a good job the beach is beautiful too. The hotel doesn’t let you check in until 3pm. Considering the amount they charge for rooms – plus the fact there are fewer than 70 villas – we weren’t expecting to have to wait so long to get access to our room. Ferries leave from the little jetty at Palma Rubia 3 times a day. We arrived at about 11.30.
There are more details about getting to Cayo Levisa at the end of this post.
Forced into relaxing on the beach under a palm frond umbrella with the Caribbean lapping at our toes. What a terrible hardship!
Unfortunately, Christina and I can’t sit still for that long. It’s only a matter of time before we’re off exploring the easterly tip of Cayo Levisa called Punta Arena. There’s almost no one around and the water here is incredible.
Punta Arena used to be one of the main spots on Cayo Levisa, but Hurricane Irma in 2017 ripped through the area causing lots of damage. The beach here is now desolate and all that remains are a few broken shades, an old beach volleyball net and the remnants of a beach bar.
It feels like we’re the only people on the island.
The water at the eastern point of the cay is so clear you can see the bottom metres down. To get to the Punta it feels like a jungle safari as you push through mangroves and overhanging trees to make a path.
Back at the main beach where we were waiting before, there’s a lot more going on. We visit the bar for a couple of local beers (Cristal – never Bucanero) and watch the little sailing boat that takes people around the island. We think about doing it, but it’s so hot today and our Australian terror of UV keeps us safe under the sun shade!
Finally – after all that sun, sand and anticipation – our room is ready. The rooms here at Hotel Cayo Levisa are spread out along a long (very long) boardwalk that follows the beach west from the main hotel area.
It’s so long in fact they have built a miniature version of the main restaurant half way along the boardwalk to save people walking all the way back there for dinner. It’s really not that far, but it feels like it as you’re walking in the heat with your bags (there are no porters here) and counting up to 65.
This place is lucky it’s so pretty!
We’re finally here! And our room is enormous. It makes up for the wait. The bed is gigantic, there are 2 sofas, a dining room set and 2 coffee tables – which seems a bit excessive. The bathroom is also huge and well appointed. But best of all is the balcony:
The balconies in this hotel are lovely. Decked platforms above the beach scrub that look out over the island, the balconies are private and have really comfy furniture. It’s too much of an invitation for me. I sit back, rest the bar fridge of its beer, spark up a cigar and settle down to my book.
Meanwhile, Christina is having a much-needed nap. Relaxing on the beach can be surprisingly taxing!
After a while, I decide to take a stroll outside. The pathway down to the beach is so pretty. If you’re looking for somewhere to relax, this place is it. You almost have no option but to chill out.
This is the first time I’ve ever had a cigar on the beach. I rather like it. Taking a selfie at the same time though seems to be causing me a bit of confusion!
Christina’s nap time is finally over, so I’ve brought her back down to the beach to admire the view. She certainly makes the boardwalk look better.
The water at this beach is even more beautiful than at Punta Arena. Looking down from the little old jetty that juts out into the Caribbean gives a lovely view down. There are lots of little fish here, though I think hiring snorkelling gear would be a bit of a waste of money. The rental prices are also a bit high.
There are a few dive sites at Levisa though, which might be worth looking at. The only problem is I think they’re all in quite shallow water, which means a limited range of life to see.
The sun sets over the Caribbean in a beautiful golden red blaze. It’s almost time for dinner!
Dinner at Hotel Levisa is included in the cost of the room. It’s buffet style, but the food is pretty good. One thing to be aware of is the strange flies that infest the area at dusk at this time of year (April and May). They’re harmless and don’t bite, but fly everywhere and are quite pervasive.
Waiting until the sun has completely gone – around 8.45 – is well worth it. At that point the flies all disappear and don’t return. It’s very strange.
Christina’s up very early this morning to catch the dawn. The pearly pink light tickles the clouds and promises another bright sunny day here in paradise.
As the sun rises properly, the sky lights up and puts on a real show. I almost wish I’d got up for this one… almost! My bed is just so comfortable though.
Today we leave Levisa for our return to Havana and I’m making the most of our digs.
We also get a final swim in before we leave. To our delight Christina spots a starfish in the shallows. There are a couple along the beach and the few people we’re sharing the beach with are looking at them too.
We’re really happy to see no one touching the starfish.
It really annoys us when we see people picking them up. Starfish can suffer injuries and die from contact and exposure to air and the heat from our bodies.
We’ve had an amazing time here at Cayo Levisa. We weren’t sure what to expect before we arrived and were worried it was going to be a massive tourist trap. Instead we leave feeling very relaxed and revived.
If you have the opportunity to make it to this cay, definitely do it. It’s romantic, beautiful and you get to see the potential that Cuba has for this level of tourism as the country develops.
As we wait for our ferry, the sky fills up with the threat of rain and we’re keen to get back on the road. The distant mountain ranges near Viñales are getting a good soaking and we’d prefer to be back in our taxi heading east before those clouds reach us.
It’s only a 30 minute boat ride back to the mainland and we’re thrilled to see our driver, who dropped us off here. Getting a taxi from Levisa to Havana can be quite tricky. The roads are really bad and it’s a long way.
Thanks to our casa particular host in Viñales – Ridel Batista of Casa Mis Cumbres – was amazing and organised this guy to drive us the whole way.
The direct road from Cayo Levisa to Havana should only take an hour and a half, but in reality it would take a lot longer than that – plus you risk wrecking your car. The roads are terrible. For that reason, our driver has decided to go a longer way round further inland.
As we go, we pass by an area that not many travellers get to see. Las Terrazas is a special landmark and a heritage area of Cuba. The rainforest that surrounds the lakes and old farmland terraces where the area gets its name have more of a Polynesian or even Japanese feel to them than the Antilles in the Caribbean.
This area is absolutely stunning and we’re so thankful to our driver for taking us through here.
This has been a remarkable part of our trip and so unexpectedly beautiful. We knew that Cayo Levisa was going to be pretty, but we had no idea that it would be like this.
How to get to Cayo Levisa, Cuba
Taxis will take you to Cayo Levisa (or to the ferry wharf Palma Rubia) but it’s hard to organise one to pick you up after. Coaches do also bring groups here, which is often the best value option.
There are buses you can take from Viñales and Havana that cost as little as $30 each way. However, they won’t be comfortable and you’re likely to spend a day getting there.
Apparently it’s really rare to be able to get a taxi to take you one way from Viñales to Havana via Levisa. They usually want to take you back to where they came from.
There are also daytrip options for visiting the cay but you don’t get to explore the whole island – only a small beach portion of it.
The ferry runs to and from Palma Rubia 3 times a day (1st ferry leaves Rubia at 11am) and tickets aren’t expensive. However, if you book through Cubanacan here, the price of the return boat transfer is included in your booking.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this travel update. We’ll be writing a more in depth review of Hotel Cayo Levisa down the line – we’ve got plenty more to tell you about!
Cheers – Jim & Christina xx
Any idea if Cubans are allowed to take the ferry to Cata Levisa?
Good question Brad. I mean, we didn’t see any locals on the ferry and there seemed to be only foreign tourists on the island. I think the staff and deliveries for the hotel have separate boats, which would make sense as the tourist ferry is so infrequent, but I really hope that doesn’t mean Cubans aren’t allowed on. We were recommended this spot by our friend who runs ethical tours in Cuba, so I’d be surprised if it was problematic. Still, it is a foreign-owned resort, which isn’t the best.
Having said that, Levisa definitely doesn’t feel like Varadero, which has boom gates at the start of the peninsula to stop Cubans going there and locals aren’t even allowed on any of the resort beaches (not a great place imo).
Please do let us know if you find out anything to the contrary though. Cheers – Jim