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Cayo Jutías is the best beach in Cuba amongst all of what we saw. It’s wild, remote, full of life… Its turquoise waters turn pink at sunset, something that not many people know about. Its white sand is overwhelming at first glance. A Paradise for those who know where to look for it, and one of the most beautiful places to visit in Cuba.
We had seen pictures from home, but none showed its real nature.
BUT, WHAT IS A CAYO (KEY)?
A Cayo, or a Key in English, is a sandy, low-lying island that is formed on coral soil. It is very common throughout the Caribbean and the Antilles Sea.
To reach some of them, it is necessary to use boats. However, others are so close to the coast that they connect naturally with the main island of Cuba or through bridges and roads.
The ecosystem in the keys are usually very fragile due to its small extension. Cayo Jutías, for example, owes its name to a large rodent called “Jutía” that inhabits in Cuban trees, but is now almost extinct.
While arranging our travels, we considered whether to go to this island or to Cayo Levisa. Both are accessible from Viñales.
With only 15 days to visit Cuba, we chose Cayo Jutías for the following reasons:
- While staying at our “casa particular”, we were told that Cayo Jutías is more beautiful than Cayo Levisa, more exotic, and even more natural. Cayo Levisa has a big resort on the beach, so there are people constantly.
- We would save time and money by going to Cayo Jutías since we would have had to take a Ferry to go to Cayo Levisa.
- Although they had told us that it would be impossible to sleep at Cayo Jutías, our original plan was to try to stay there overnight. Therefore, we did not know if we would use one or two days of our trip, leaving us without time to see both keys.
HOW TO GET TO CAYO JUTiAS
Finding a shared taxi that takes you to Cayo Jutías from Viñales is very easy. At the entrance of the Viazul de Viñales station, there are taxi drivers who offer a seat at 15 CUC for round-trip. You simply have to agree with them the day before on departure time and price.
What we found to be impossible was finding a driver who would not mind returning after sunset. The road to Cayo Jutías is in very bad conditions. So bad that they had to finally remove the entry ticket to the beach because complaints of the tourists were heard. It was unthinkable that they charged for crossing a bumpy road full of potholes.
Because they must sustain their cars for over 30 years, taxi drivers cannot risk suffering a breakdown by driving in the dark on these roads. If you are lucky, some will wait until 6 in the afternoon. Most of them would have already left the island by 4 o’clock, and it is not late enough to enjoy an incredible sunset in Cayo Jutías, the best time of the day.
Despite having booked a round trip, something inside me knew that we would not return with the taxi driver at 6. I smelled an adventure, even though Dani had already resigned himself to missing the sunset.
Top things to do in cayo jutías – THE best BEACH IN CUBA
LANDING IN CAYO JUTÍAS
We arrived at Cayo Jutías at about 10 in the morning, after an hour and a half packed in a shared taxi. The beach was very nice, but to be honest, it was not what we expected. The blue water and the white sand were full of people. A snack bar, two bars, plenty of hammocks and parasols eventually completely destroyed my concept of a perfect beach.
If you like crowds on the beach, you will enjoy this beach like a child. But it was not what we were looking for. Feeling a little disappointed, we went to the shore, and from there we saw a small tent hidden in some bushes. This was a big surprise since we had thought that you could not camp in Cuba until that moment. We eagerly went to talk to the occupants.
They turned out to be two very nice Spanish girls who were traveling through South America over the next 4 months. They confirmed to us that indeed you can camp in Cuba. They had been doing it all over the island for a month and had not had any problems.
At that time, we regretted not having carried a tent. Luckily, they told us that during the night, there are guards who watched the beach bars, and that they would tell us where we could sleep if we asked them. They believed that the guards would have a tent to lend.
Emotions overflowed. Especially since I had told the incredulous Dani that we were not going to return to Viñales that day, and now we know that I was right. But the good news did not end there. They did not tell us that at towards the southwest at the end of the key, there would be a beach with a giant starfish.
THE ROUTE to the secret beach
At once, we headed to unknown shores with the dream of finding that distant beach we had been told about. As soon as you leave the beach bars behind, the landscape changes radically. Entanglements of dead mangroves made it difficult for us to cross. I will never forget those grayish trunks breaking the waves.
Despite the extreme beauty of the environment, walking in these conditions can be a real challenge. At times, the mangroves forced us into the water until it covered our knees.
Sometimes a road loomed inland away from the coast. There, we passed near a lagoon where millions of crabs moved out of our way with a loud roar.
The worst part was crossing a thick Pine forest where mosquitoes almost devoured us. If you are going to do this route, bringing mosquito repellent is more vital than anywhere else in Cuba.
Many times, we found small beaches that tempted us to forget the idea of finding that giant starfish and stop walking.
THE PARADISE – THE BEST BEACH OF CUBA
After an hour of walking, the path cleared and we entered paradise just as we were about to give up. Without a doubt this is the best beach in Cuba.
A paradise to ourselves, where the only sound was the waves of the sea.
As soon as we entered the water, we found what we were looking for. Starfish like we’ve never seen before.
DO NOT KILL THE STARFISH
I know starfish are beautiful, but please do not take them out of the water to take pictures since they can die. It is the same sensation as if someone had put us under water to take a picture.
Starfishes are animals that need to be inside the water to breathe. Out of the water, they die intoxicated. In addition, being subjected to constant handling by tourists can cause death by stress.
Be responsible and do not take a starfish out of the water – respect for the environment and conservation is key, especially in sensitive areas like this where tourism is becoming more popular.
We toured the immense beach several times in total solitude and under a scorching sun. If you come to this beach, do not forget your sunscreen because there is no shade.
We found a beautiful empty giant shell.
As we swam, we saw and felt crabs that are considerable in size. We also saw some jellyfish, but luckily, they only appeared at the end of the day.
The way back went much faster, I suppose because the mosquitoes did not show up.
where to stay IN CAYO JUTÍAS
BRIBING THE NIGHT GUARDS
We arrived at the main beach at about 5 in the afternoon, and to our surprise, it was practically deserted. There were only our taxi companions, with whom we had agreed that we would leave at 6.
There were also the girls we had met in the morning and told us that the night guards had arrived.
Before the bar closed, we bought a bottle of Havana rum (8 CUC) to bribe the night guards.
It really was not necessary. The guards thought it was great to have company for that night. I got the feeling that every day there is an explorer who refuses to leave paradise in the afternoon and seeks asylum.
They kindly welcomed us without any problem, but told us that the tent was broken, which meant we would have to sleep in the bathroom of the bar.
With plenty of time to catch the taxi back, we did not think about it anymore. We preferred to stay and watch the sunset and sleep in the bathroom than missing the whole show.
SUNSET AT CAYO JUTÍAS
We couldn’t believe that we had managed to find a place to sleep in Cayo Jutías, we went looking for the best place to watch the sunset.
And it could not be anywhere other than the dead mangrove. It was close enough to the beach bar so we did not have to walk back in the darkness. Also, seeing the roots become pink with the lights of the sunset was an experience that we were dreaming of since we set foot on that beach.
The only problem were the thick clouds that threatened to ruin the show.
However, the clouds parted when the show began, giving us one of those unique moments in life.
AROUND A BOTTLE OF RUM
The sun went out and we went back to the beach bar. This time closed to the public.
We all dined together – the guards, the Spanish girls who were still camping, and us. We shared the rum and had a great time telling anecdotes of our trips to the guards, now with astonished eyes, who are delighted to learn about life outside the island.
We also took the opportunity to learn more about their customs, and it truly ended up being a wonderful evening. We were surprised that they did not have a bloody flashlight even though they worked as night guards, so we end up giving them ours.
While we were finishing the bottle of rum, Dani went to take some night photos. Since there was no population center nearby, the sky was covered in a beautiful blanket of stars.
THE RAREST place WHERE WE HAVE SLEPT
When Dani returned, we asked the guard to show us where to sleep. He told us to take two hammocks and put them in the bathroom of the bar. He also lent us some towels and pieces of cloths for us as covers. I did not sleep the whole night, but I do not regret the experience at all.
What we regret was not having carried a tent. If we did, we would have slept on the beach where the starfish was. And of course, we would have made a bonfire, as it was done before per ruminants of an old one.
Sleeping outdoors is not recommended either, as flea-biting mosquitoes, like the ones we saw in Playa Ancón, are the real killers at night. Therefore, here I tell you how to buy travel insurance since when we travel to places like Cuba, it is a must. In case you are going to spend a long time in the Caribbean, I recommend long-stay travel insurance.
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If I have to be clear about something, it is that when I return to Cuba, it will be with a tent. In this country, it seems like an essential thing if you want to enjoy all its nature.
THE BEACH OF THE EAST
The next morning, we had breakfast at one of the bars. They charged us 8 CUC for two natural papaya juices and two cheese sandwiches.
Then, we had to decide whether to visit the beach of the starfish again or go across the other side of the beach towards the east.
Although the starfish beach was tempting us to go back again, we wanted to explore all of Jutías Key, so we started walking towards the other beach.
The landscape is different from the one you find in the other direction. The mangroves are greener but at the same time, there are more people.
If you walk a little bit, you will find the parking area. Over there, taxi drivers often wait until it’s time to pick up their passengers. At one point, the vegetation no longer allowed us to advance, making it the route that you can do in much shorter time in this direction than towards the other beach.
This beach is considerably less crowded than the main beach. However, it cannot be compared in terms of beauty or nature to the beach at the end of the key.
If you do not feel like walking for as long as you need to get to the beach of the starfish and do not want to be surrounded by other sun bathers, I recommend that you come to this one.
Also, there are places that sell you food even though there are no bars here. For example, Dani bought a freshly caught lobster that was cooked on hot coals for 9 CUC. He said it was the best lobster he has ever tasted.
THE RETURN TO CIVILIZATION
We had no way to return to Viñales since the original agreement with the taxi driver was to return on the previous day. So, at 4, we went to where we had left the taxi to see if there was someone else with a free seat, or even better if there was a tourist with a rental car and wouldn’t mind driving us back to Viñales.
We didn’t have to worry about the taxi. Within 3 minutes, we found a Swiss couple who offered to take us to Viñales.
My advice to those who want to sleep at the key, is that you negotiate with taxi drivers’ for a one way only price between Viñales – Cayo Jutías.
When we returned to our private house in Viñales, our host lady asked us with worries because we had not gone back to sleep the night before. When we told them the story, they nicknamed us as the Hermits of Cayo Jutias.
Amazing story. I will not have time (and I am not sure my companions are this adventurous) but enjoyed living through your story.
Thank you, Dawn. It is a pity! You don’t need to be so adventurous to enjoy Cayo Jutias. You can go just a day and also visit the most beautiful beach in Cuba. How long are you going to be visiting the island?
Thank you for this post. I was almost giving up on experiencing a Cayo for our upcoming trip to Cuba. There is always a “it’s a nice beach but”. We will be leaving in less than a week and will only be staying 11 days (leave days are super short 🙁 ) So far we go to Havana, Trinidad, Vinales and any Cayo to experience the Caribbean beach. I think I will go for Cayo Jutias then, thanks to you 🙂
Ciela (from Paris, France)
Cayo Jutias is a great option Ciela! I definitely recommend you to go there and it is a day trip from Viñales so you have time to do it!