Cuba and beaches go hand-in-hand. Exquisite stretches of fine white sand grace every tourist brochure about the country. Most of those beaches are home to large resorts full of Canadians and Europeans fleeing winter, but an hour’s drive north of Viñales is an altogether more low-key and tranquil stretch of sand: Cayo Jutias.
The glorious 3km of beaches on Cayo Jutias can’t be described as ‘undiscovered’, but the drive, on winding roads through rolling hills and along a 9km causeway, to reach this blissful mangrove-covered key gives it an isolated feel. There were only a handful of tourists and Cubans the day we visited, the sun shone and the water was perfect. Plunging into the sea provides great relief from Cuba’s humidity.
Most people stay on the beach near the only buildings along this coast: a palm leaf-covered bar and restaurant. You can walk down the beach and through the mangroves to discover the many small, empty beaches that are dotted along the coast. Although, if you’re walking through the mangroves, it’s worth remembering that they’re home to plenty of biting insects. A lesson learned the hard way.
There’s no accommodation anywhere on the key, explaining its relative tranquility and making a day trip the only option. It’s well worth the journey. The white sand, bleached mangroves and glorious azure waters make Cayo Jutias a picturesque place. There are loungers for rent, a dive shop providing snorkelling and diving trips to the nearby reef, and you can take a boat out to a small islet just off the coast.
Like most people we drove from Viñales. There are plenty of taxistas willing to take you for a standard fee, wait for you at the beach and drive you home again. We had a 1950s Chevrolet to add a touch of nostalgia to the trip. The journey was fascinating, leaving the Valle de Viñales we drove over forested hills and passed through several villages, including Minas de Matahambre, a former copper mining town.
Everywhere you go in Cuba there are people by the side of the road (often waving money) trying to travel. There seems to be a transport crisis in most parts of the country, and it feels weird to have empty seats in your taxi while so many people need a lift. We gave a lift to a woman who turned out to work at the restaurant on the beach. We were rewarded with a free drink and lots of conversation.
Cayo Jutias is clearly going to become more popular as tourism booms in the country. For the time-being it remains sleepy and relaxed, fully deserving its reputation as an independent traveller’s alternative to the all-inclusive resorts elsewhere in Cuba. I just hope its growing popularity doesn’t attract the developers. It would be a terrible shame if the mangroves were replaced by concrete.