CAYO JUTÍAS, CUBA: A DAY TRIP FROM VIÑALES
On our last day in Viñales, we decided to make a day trip to the lovely beach of Cayo Jutías, Cuba. Lonely Planet describes this remote place as the most discovered ‘undiscovered’ beach in the Piñar del Río area and that’s pretty spot on. Connected to the mainland only by a long narrow road, Cayo Jutías feels like the most secluded place you’ll be seeing on your trip to Cuba. However, when you arrive, you’ll notice you won’t be the only one who wanted to enjoy this stunning beach today.
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cayo jutías, Cuba map
As you can see on the map, Cayo Jutías is situated in a remote area, with the closest village being Santa Lucía. However, most visitors are staying in Viñales and will make the trip as a day tour. The almost-island is located about 65 kilometres away from the popular hillside town, but it will take you 1,5 to 2 hours to get there due to the bad road conditions.
Cayo can be translated as Cay (also known as Caye or Key). It’s a small sandy island with a low elevation that forms on top of a coral reef. They occur in tropical environments all around the world. Cayo Jutías and Playa Jutías are both used.
Cayo jutías beach
We absolutely loved Playa Jutías and think it’s one of the best beaches in Cuba (ok, to be honest, we only visited two but we’re sure this one definitely earns a spot in the top 5!). As it is a day trip destination, there are only a couple of basic facilities: a restaurant, a couple of bars and some places that rent out beach chairs and umbrellas. There’s also a dive shop. But hey, this is what gives it charm!
Cayo Jutías is a 3km long stretch of soft white sand and crystal clear turquoise waters. It’s named after large tree rats (jutías/hutias) that are common in the area (and other parts of the Caribbean). The beach can be divided into three main areas:
The central part: this is the most touristy area where you’ll find the main restaurant Playa Arena and opportunities to rent umbrellas and chairs. The beach itself is narrow (only a couple of meters wide) and the chairs take up most of the space. But you won’t mind walking with your feet in the clearest water you’ll ever see.
The eastern part: you’ll have to walk through a few mangrove bushes to reach this area (don’t worry, it’s a clear path and a bit of walking over tree roots – our 4-year old loved it) to reach this far more remote part of the beach. There are lots of trees (mangroves and pines) which will give you natural shade. We even saw a family hang a hammock between the trees – what a great idea! There’s more seaweed on the sand here, though. Also, our driver told us that the best snorkel spot is if you walk all the way to the most eastern point of the Key (we didn’t check for ourselves).
The western part: if you walk past the main restaurant you’ll get to another more remote area. There are a couple of bars here but the more West you head, the more relaxed it will get. The beach goes on for a long while and according to the Maps.me app, there’s a viewpoint a bit further ahead as well. We didn’t check out this part of Cayo Jutías, though.
Playa jutías facilities
Food & drinks
As mentioned before, the only facilities available in Cayo Jutías are a restaurant and a couple of bars. We had lunch at the main restaurant Playa Arena but it was the worst food we ate during our whole trip to Cuba. You get to choose between a couple of main dishes: rice with lobster, rice with shrimp, rice with fish and the house speciality: a mix of those three. Kath decided to go for the lobster – we had to try freshly caught lobster in Cuba, right? – and I went for the mixed one. We also ordered a side dish of plain white rice for Norah (in case she didn’t like the other food).
What we got was this – not quite our idea of a great seafood dish…
Apart from the food that we barely found edible, the service wasn’t anything to write home about either. We might be a bit picky when it comes to food, but we definitely aren’t difficult when it comes to service, location, comfort etc. However, the waitress was unfriendly (but she did have to run the whole place by herself!). It took us 2 hours (!!) for this lunch break – and we didn’t spend a lot of that time eating. We ordered a bottle of water that we never received (fortunately we brought our daughter’s drinking bottle so she could have water while eating). The bill wasn’t too cheap either (22 CUP), but as this is the only restaurant on the beach we kinda saw that one coming.
To end this rant about the restaurant on a more positive note: the location is absolutely breathtaking. This open building with a banana leaf roof checks all the boxes on the Caribbean-feeling checklist. Unfortunately, their monopoly has caused the food and service to go down (or maybe it was never any good to start with) and that might not change soon because it’s still jam-packed with daytrippers every single day.
As an alternative, we read about the bar next door selling sandwiches that are way better. However, we didn’t verify. You can buy drinks from the restaurant or the bars. There are no shops in Cayo Jutías.
Loungers & umbrellas
In the central part of Playa Jutías, it’s possible to rent beach chairs and umbrellas for the day. You’ll pay 4 CUC for an umbrella and 3 CUC for a lounger. We spend 10 CUC (umbrella + 2 chairs) and although it’s not cheap, we were very happy with our decision. The sun in Cuba is strong and even in early March, it would’ve been too hot to stay in the sun all day (especially this early on our trip and with our European winter skin).
Furthermore, on many of the Cuban beaches, you can encounter sand flies. We were warned about them being in Cayo Levisa and later on, we had some bites when we were in Playa Larga. We preferred not to take any chances and rented chairs instead of laying down on a towel.
There is a big parking lot in front of the main restaurant Playa Arena. I’m not sure whether you have to pay or not in case you’re coming by rental car.
There’s a toilet inside the restaurant. It’s free if you bring your own toilet paper. We’d had it so much with the restaurant that we didn’t check it out.
Cayo Jutías accommodation
One of the best parts of this beach is its remoteness. However, that means it is not possible to find a Cayo Jutías hotel nearby. How nice it would be to have this beach all for yourself when all the daytrippers are gone!
Casa Jutías is being called a Cayo Jutías casa particular and is, in fact, the closest accommodation to the Key you’ll find. It’s along the road to the beach. In only 15 minutes you’ll be on the white sand with your feet in the water, but arranging transport might be a bit of a hassle (you can rent electric scooters for 15 CUC a day or you can always take a horsedrawn carriage right up to the beach – just like the locals. I assume the casa owner will be able to tell you more about the best way to reach Playa Jutías). The reviews for this casa are extra-ordinarily good and you get free breakfast if you book 3 nights or more! Oh, and there’s also a pool. Check prices and availability here.
However, as transport can be quite difficult (and expensive!) to arrange in Cuba, we would recommend staying in Viñales and visiting Cayo Jutías on a day trip.
how to get from VIÑALES TO CAYO JUTÍAS?
You can head to the Cubanacán office in the centre of Viñales to book a ticket on the bus to Cayo Jutías. A ticket costs 15 CUC per person. The bus leaves at 9 AM and leaves back from Playa Jutías at 4 PM. Like everything in Cuba – but especially in Viñales – make sure to book well in advance. We tried booking the day before around noon but by that time the bus was already full.
By taxi (colectivo)
The most used option to get to Cayo Jutías is by taxi colectivo. These – usually classic – cars pick you up at your accommodation, then go on to pick up some more people and then set off towards the beach. The driver will drop you off around 11 AM and will wait there for you and the rest of your ‘group’ until 4 PM when you’ll do the return trip Playa Jutías – Viñales. Arrival time will be somewhere around 6 PM.
You can book this trip through your casa particular. The day trip costs 20-25 CUC (we paid 20 CUC. As the driver was a friend of our host, we were asked not to mention the price to the other tourists who were paying 25 CUC each). You pay for the seat, so if you take a child on the lap, you don’t have to pay.
Be warned that this is a very long and bumpy ride. You’d think that 65 km will cost you about an hour or so (if you’re already calculating the usual Cuban delays and road conditions) – but guess what: add another hour or even a bit more to that. Especially the last part, once you took the junction towards Cayo Jutías, is in VERY bad shape.
Our driver, Roberto, was obviously very much in love with his beautiful old car and knew how to take care of it. Unfortunately for us, that meant taking every pothole at 5km/hour. We would’ve been faster walking at some points. Furthermore, it got really hot in the car – being stuck in an old metal box with 9 adults and a child. But hey, it was another one of those experiences you’ll never forget. It was a long and tiring day, but we had so much fun on the beach but also chatting with Roberto (2 Spanish speaking chicks and a cute little girl in a car full of young – mostly gay – men, we definitely had his attention).
If you prefer to have your own taxi so you can choose when you’ll be leaving: that should be possible, but it will, most likely, be very expensive. Count on paying at least the amount the driver would earn when all the places in his car are filled (minimum 4 in a new car, but most likely 6 or more in a classic one). So anywhere between 100-200 CUC. Make arrangements well in advance!
By rental car
If you happen to have a rental car at your disposal, you can head towards Playa Jutías by yourself. There’s a parking lot in front of the main restaurant, which is convenient. However, make sure you are used to driving in bad circumstances as the road conditions are horrific.
Cayo Jutías or Cayo Levisa
Cayo Jutías is one of the best and prettiest beaches near Viñales, Cuba. However, there’s another competitor for that title: Cayo Levisa.
This island can be visited as a day trip from Viñales too – but it’s also possible to stay the night. This offers the opportunity to have this beach all for yourself once the daytrippers are gone. We originally put two nights on Cayo Levisa on our itinerary but deleted it for budget reasons. We still hope to visit it one day, because the thought of staying at this barefoot white sandy beach sounds absolutely amazing.
As a day trip from Viñales, you’ll pay 45 CUC for transport (1-hour bus and 30-minute boat ride) and there’s lunch in the island resort included. If you would like to spend the night (or a couple of nights), you’ve got 2 options:
- Villa Cayo Levisa: This all-inclusive 3*-hotel is the most popular option when visitors want to spend the night on the island. Quality-wise it isn’t the best: the food is not great and some of the cabins are getting old. But the location right on the beach makes it all worthwhile. If you book a night, you don’t have to pay for the ferry. You can check prices and availability here.
- Villa Gustavo y Mary: if you’re looking for a less touristy way to visit the island, there’s also one casa particular in Cayo Levisa. This house is not located on the beach, but the owner will bring you in 5 minutes with a horsedrawn carriage (something to check off your Cuba-to-do list!). The reviews are unanimously great (5* on Airbnb). Check the price (almost nothing, really) and availability here if you want a real Cuban experience. This casa is definitely on the list for our next visit!
We loved visiting Cayo Jutías as a day trip from Viñales. It was a tiring day that started at 9 AM and we got back home at 6.15 PM. The drive was long, hot and bumpy but the beach and ocean made it all worthwhile. Make sure to pack a lunch instead of eating at the main restaurant. We hope you have an amazing day!
We made this trip in March 2020. This article was published in May 2020.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Babs Rodrigus is the co-founder and main writer of Mums on FlipFlops . She is absolutely crazy about travelling – especially together with her wife and daughter. Babs loves animals, chocolate (what did you expect from a Belgian?), reading and writing.