Cayo Largo del Sur, Cuba

Photo: Alessandro Marchetti via freeimages.com
Photo: Alessandro Marchetti via freeimages.com

It seems like everyone is planning a vacation to Cuba. As airlines continue to announce, seemingly daily, new flights to the long-forbidden Caribbean island, trips to Havana, Trinidad, and Cienfuegos are in the works. You want to go too, of course. But your sights aren’t set on one of the lost-in-time cities. You’re excited to finally see one of the most gorgeous beaches in the world.

Playa Paraiso has been on your wish list for years. The undeveloped beach is, amazingly, still backed by just coconut palms, no resorts or condominiums. A lone snack bar offers juice, beer, and shade. A handful of scattered palapas provide more protection from the hot sun. Not that you’ll want to spend much time underneath one. The beach, guarded from the southeasterly trade winds, also has fine, white sand and calm, clear water. Huge starfish lie just offshore. While sea turtles use the practically deserted beach for nesting.

This perfect beach is on Cayo Largo del Sur. The limestone island is part of the Canarreos Archipelago, a chain of nearly 350 islands off Cuba’s southwestern coast. Cayo Largo (Long Cay) was long a fishing ground for the Carib and Ciboney peoples before Christopher Columbus arrived in 1494. Surprisingly, a settlement was never established on the island.

Though it’s now home to a handful of resorts—catering to mostly Argentines, Canadians, and Italians—a small airport, and a little village for tourists, there are no permanent residents here to this day. Mangrove swamps line the north coast. Sixteen miles of uninterrupted beaches surround the island. While Playa Paraiso and its sister beach, Playa Sirena, attract beach lovers on the west coast.

After settling into your all-inclusive resort, you plan to visit breeding sea turtles at La Granja de las Tortugas, buy cigars in Marina Cayo Largo, and eat lobster at Taberna del Pirata. But your first stop is Playa Paraiso. Finally.

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