Playa Larga is an under-visited fishing village around 2.5 hours south of Havana. As the gateway to Cuba’s largest wilderness area and with some of the best snorkelling and diving in the country, it’s an excellent destination on the time-warped tropical island.
Playa Larga, a small fishing village on the Cuban coast, is the gateway to the Cienaga de Zapata National Park. A varied ecosystem of wetlands, mangrove forests, coral reefs and underwater canyons, it’s home to a massive variety of colourful birds and tropical fish.
And, unlike most Cuban beachfront towns, Playa Larga is not fronted by sterile hotels. Instead it’s a product of local invention. Playa Larga-ians have converted their homes into accommodation and terraces into bars, creating an altogether cooler vibe.
Here’s a quick guide of our favourite things to do in Playa Larga and some tips on the best ways to chill out.
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WILDLIFE EXPERIENCES AT PLAYA LARGA
The sprawling Ciénaga de Zapata National Park surrounding Playa Larga, offers some stunning wildlife encounters. Visit distinct ecosystems including flat swampy grasslands, dense mangrove forests, stunning coral reefs, underwater canyons and vast wetlands. Guides and transport can be organised at the Ciénaga de Zapata National Park Office which is located on the main road in Playa Larga.
Here are some of the key locations in Ciénaga de Zapata.
BERMEJA FOREST RESERVE
The Bermeja Forest Reserve is home to 20 of the 28 colourful species endemic to Cuba including the bee hummingbird. Get a guide and take a walk spotting these colourful creatures. Bird watching tours can be organised via the National Park office or your casa particular host.
The Zapata Wetlands is a lush region of dense forest, cut by rivers leading to mangrove-lined coastal lagoons. Discover a swathe of pink in the form of thousands of flamingos that call this beautiful part of Cuba home. Organise a boat trip at the park office and have your camera ready.
Full Guide – Visiting Ciénaga de Zapata
SENDERO ENIGMA DE LAS ROCAS
Take an educational half-day walk through the Enigma de las Rocas to find endemic birds, creepy bats, crabs and a weird crocodile fish. Tours start in Playa Girón where you’ll be transported to the start of the 2-kilometre hike. Bring your swimming gear for a swim in the cenote at the end.
WETLANDS AROUND PLAYA LARGA
Surrounded by oceans and a variety of waterways, Playa Larga is an excellent centre for enjoying a host of different aqua-inspired activities. Explore enchanting blue seas, deep eerie cenotes and crocodile-infested waters.
SNORKEL AND DIVE IN BAY OF PIGS
The turquoise waters of the Bay of Pigs are inviting enough for lounging on the beach. But, just a few metres off-shore, a coral reef contains masses of tropical fish and a few sunken ships. It’s a great spot for snorkelling and diving. Several places offer combined snorkelling and diving tours or you can just head off from the beach if you have your own snorkelling equipment.
CUEVA DE LOS PECES
Just t a few meters inland, the small but very deep cenote, Cueva de los Peces is another great location for a dip. It’s an interesting place for snorkelling but it’s really the preserve of divers who can disappear into the maze of underwater caves hidden in the 70-metre deep cenote. Organise guided tours through your accommodation who will arrange transport for you.
CRIADERO DE COCODRILOS
The Criadero de Cocodrilos is a crocodile breeding facility that is aimed at protecting 2 species (the Cuban and the American) that were almost extinct just 50 years ago. Take an informative tour through the different breeding stages and visit the different swaps to get a closer look. The facility is in Carreter, just north of Playa Larga.
HISTORIC SITES AROUND PLAYA LARGA
Playa Larga and the nearby Playa Girón (Bay of Pigs) have a firm place in Cuban history. Spend some time discovering the region’s interesting past.
RECONSTRUCTED TAÍNO VILLAGE
Only accessible by boat, Hotel Guamá has been built in the image of a Taíno village. Spread across a number of small islands it tries to recall the time before the Spanish arrived when local indigenous tribes ran their own lives. Ferries and speedboats run from Boca de Guamá.
BAY OF PIGS MUSEUM
Just half an hour’s drive east of Playa Larga, the Bay of Pigs Museum details the failed CIA-sponsored invasion of Cuba. The museum plays the victory for all its worth with tanks, planes and guns on the lawn and detailed information boards inside. Please note, all the information in the museum is in Spanish.
PLAYA LARGA TOWN CENTRE
A stroll around the streets of Playa Larga will uncover the remnants of the Cuban – American conflict. An old old tank takes pride of place at the entrance and Fidel statues overlook the main street. Several murals detailing the invasion and Fidel’s glorious victory are located throughout the town.
BEACHES AROUND PLAYA LARGA
Many of Cuba’s beaches are overlooked by sterile 1960’s hotels, but the fishing village of Playa Larga is a delightful exception. The beaches here have the relaxed, tropical vibe you’d expect from the Carribean, but delivered in a unique Cuban way.
PLAYA LARGA & PLAYA MAQUINA
Playa Larga has a few stretches of sand just in front of the main road, but for the best afternoon on the beach, join the locals just east of town where most of the beach-going takes place. The other great beach is Playa Maquina, which has powdery white sand just 3 kilometres east of town.
SOL Y CARIBE ON CALETON BEACH
In the evening, congregate with the locals at Sol Y Caribe beach bar on Caleton beach. Pull up a chair, grab a mojito, sit back under the swaying palms and listen to the musings of the band ebb and flow in the breeze.
DINE AT A CASA PARTICULAR
At Playa Larga, locals are adapting to the lifting of restrictions on private businesses. Casas particulares in prime locations have the best food in town. Pop in to see Alexis and Dignora at the Gran Hostel and ask if they have something from today’s catch they can whip up for dinner. You won’t be disappointed.
PLAYA LARGA – PRACTICALITIES
Playa Larga is a fishing village where homeowners are slowly adapting their houses to allow guests. It’s a relaxed place to unwind in Cuba but don’t expect a wide range of facilities. Here are a few essentials for Play Larga.
There is no ATM in Playa Larga any money you need, you’ll need to bring with you. There’s a CADECA exchange office in town that can convert foreign currency and most places take a non-US credit/debit card. For more information about money matters, read our top Cuba travel tips article.
There is a small supermarket next to Casa Tiki restaurant where you can stock up on supplies. They have a limited range (like many supermarkets in Cuba) but you can pick up snacks and other essentials. Don’t be surprised if prices change from one day to the next.
There is no retailer in Playa Larga that provides ESTECA WIFI cards, so bring a stash of them with you. Your casa particular host may be able to help, otherwise, there are lads roaming the bus stop in Playa Girón who will sell you one.
WHERE TO STAY IN PLAYA LARGA
Thanks to an abundance of locals trying to get into the lucrative private accommodation market, there are plenty of casas particulares to choose from in Playa Larga. Here are some of our picks:
BUDGET – CASA CARIBE STAR
Overlooking the local harbour, Casa Cariba Star is perfectly located between the shops and restaurants of Playa Larga and the beach bars of Caleton, both of which are a very short walk.
MID-RANGE – HOSTAL ENRIQUE
This hostel, one road back from the lovely Caleton beach and in the middle of the village, has large air-conditioned rooms, decent food and terraces to enjoy the sea breeze.
MAP / THINGS TO DO IN PLAYA LARGA
All the locations in this guide are included on our map so you can hit the ground running in Playa Larga. Just click on the star to save this map to your places in Google maps.
Cuba is a unique place. Years of Soviet-funded political ideology created a strong- if slightly confusing – sense of national identity. Soviet, American, Spanish, Caribbean and African influences fuse together to create a fascinating place to visit. Here is some more of our reading about this fascinating place.
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