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Introducing Playas del Este

In Cuba you're never far from an idyllic beach. Havana's very own pine-fringed Riviera, Playas del Este, begins just 18km to the east of the capital at the small resort of Bacuranao, before continuing east through Tarará, El Mégano, Santa María del Mar and Boca Ciega to the town of Guanabo. Although none of these places has so far witnessed the kind of megadevelopment redolent of Cancún or Varadero, Playas del Este is still a popular tourist drawcard. During the summer months of July and August, all of Havana comes to play and relax on the soft white sands and clear aquamarine waters of the beautiful Atlantic coastline.

While the beaches might be postcard-perfect, Playas del Este can't yet boast the all-round tourist facilities of other Cuban resorts such as Varadero and Cayo Coco, much less the all-out luxury of celebrated Caribbean getaways. Come here in the winter and the place often has a timeworn and slightly abandoned air, and even in the summer, seasoned beach bums might find the tatty restaurants and ugly Soviet-style hotel piles more than a little incongruous.

But for those who dislike modern tourist development or are keen to see how the Cubans get out and enjoy themselves at weekends, Playas del Este is a breath of fresh air.

Each of the six beaches that dot this 9km stretch of attractive coastline has its own distinctive flavor. Tarará is a yacht and diving haven, Santa María del Mar is where the largest concentration of resorts (and foreigners) can be found, Boca Ciega is popular with gay couples, while Guanabo is the rustic Cuban end of the strip, with shops, a nightclub and plenty of cheap casas particulares.