Can Americans Take Beach Vacations in Cuba?

These tours offer culture, food, history — and a few precious beachside moments

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With bated breath, Americans wanting to take their beach vacations in Cuba await the announcement that independent tourism in the island is perfectly legal and totally easy.

Alas — that time has not yet come.

Though restrictions have loosened and airlines are clamoring to provide regularly scheduled flights to the island, travel to Cuba for Americans is still not as simple as booking a flight and hotel and packing your bags. There's still the business of travel licenses and visas, which are only granted if you're traveling for one of 12 pre-approved reasons (which don't include traditional tourism, unfortunately).

For now, the simplest, most secure way for American travelers to go to Cuba is to book people-to-people educational tours through a reputable operator. Most operators will assist in securing your travel license and visa, and will plan all of your accommodations and activities. You'll be spending your days meeting Cubans, visiting art and culture centers, and getting familiar with important historical sites.

Beach Vacations in Cuba - Classic Car in Havana

Beach Vacations in Cuba - Cayo Santa Maria sunrise Sunrise in Cayo Santa Maria, Cuba. Photo: Theresa Boehl

And though traditional tourism activities (such as lying on a beach drinking mojitos) are not approved, if you choose the right tour, you might find yourself close enough to the sea that you can sneak in some beach time.

Here is a roundup of people-to-people tours that just so happen to take you to the beach, so you can enjoy the ample beauty of Cuban coastlines.

Insight Cuba's Vintage Cuba Tour

Beach Vacations in Cuba - Hotel Melia Las Dunas in Cayo Santa Maria

Beach Vacations in Cuba - Hemingway's House in Havana Top: The beachfront area of Melia Las Dunas all-inclusive resort in Cayo Santa Maria. Bottom: Ernest Hemingway's home in Havana. Photos: Theresa Boehl

Insight Cuba's Vintage Cuba Tour is a whirlwind 5-night tour that includes a visit to Hemingway's house in Havana, a visit to the Che Guevara memorial, concerts, dancing, and yes, a 2-night stay at the all-inclusive Melia Las Dunas Hotel in Cayo Santa Maria. While your days will be spent acquainting yourself with the country and its people, you can look forward to evenings by the pool or out on the beach. (Author's note: I took this tour in July 2016 and highly recommend it.)

Classic Journeys' Cienfuegos, Trinidad and Havana Tour

Beach Vacations in Cuba - photo of a mural at the Muraleando community art project

Beach Vacations in Cuba - Revolution Square in Havana Top: A mural at the Muraleando community art project in Havana. Bottom: Revolution Square in Havana. Photos: Theresa Boehl

Classic Journeys offers a 7-night tour that hits up three major cities in Cuba — Cienfuegos, Trinidad and Havana. On the way to Havana, the tour makes a stop at the Bay of Pigs, where you're invited to snorkel at a nearby coral reef. The tour also includes a visit the "Murealando" community art project and a ride in a vintage auto to Revolution Square. Sound interesting? There's plenty more lined up on that trip.

Cultural Explorations' Journey to Cuba Tour

Beach Vacations in Cuba - Castillo de San Carlos de la Cabaña Pictured above is Castillo de San Carlos de la Cabaña, an 18th century fort that's a short distance from the older Castillo De Los Tres Reyes del Morro fort. Photo: Theresa Boehl

With the 6-night Journey to Cuba Tour from Cultural Explorations, you'll spend two nights beachside in gorgeous Varadero — either at the Melia Las Americas or the Iberostar Varadero. That's in addition to exploring the streets of Old Havana, sampling food at local paladares, and taking in fantastic city views at the 16th century El Morro castle.

Beach Vacations in Cuba - food on display at a paladar Beach Vacations in Cuba - interior of a paladar

Beach Vacations in Cuba - fried eggs, beans and rice at a paladar in Havana Paladares are family-owned restaurants serving homemade food. Photos: Theresa Boehl

Cuba Explorer's Art and Culture Tour

Beach Vacations in Cuba - Havana Club cocktail Photo: Theresa Boehl

Fancy two nights feeling beach breezes? The Art and Culture Tour from Cuba Explorer will set you up for a couple of nights at the at Hotel Brisas Trinidad del Mar on Playa Ancon, a white-sand, turquoise-water paradise. During your 7-night trip, you'll dine at the famous El Aljibe restaurant, tour the city of Cienfuegos, visit a family-run pottery factory, and visit the Museum of Fine Arts in Havana.

Road Scholar's Tours by Yacht

For those seeking a truly unique way to see Cuba, there's Road Scholar, which offers several tours by yacht, including the People and Culture of Cuba Tour, where you'll lodge for a night at the beachfront Hotel Maria La Gorda. The tour includes a barbecue lunch on the beach, and a few moments for some swimming.

The company's Authentic Cuba Tour carves out a little time for some beachside chilling while visiting La Isla de La Juventud, and the next day makes a stop through Playa Sirena — considered one of the most beautiful beaches in the country — for some reef snorkeling or swimming. On the Cuba by Land and Sea Tour, you'll sail to the small coastal town of Gibara, home to several pretty beaches within walking distance of the city center.

Havana's famous Malecéon promenade. Photo: Theresa Boehl Havana's famous Malecéon promenade. Photo: Theresa Boehl

Until beach vacations in Cuba are legal and available for Americans, these enriching trips will fulfill your curiosity about the country and provide rare up-close-and-personal experiences.

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