Cayo Santa Maria is a very small cayo (key), measuring just 16-kilometer-long by 2-kilometer-wide. It is located off the northern coast of the main island of Cuba and is linked to the mainland via a causeway.
Cayo Santa Maria is one of Cuba’s newest resort areas and also one of the country’s best-kept secrets. The thirteen kilometres of pristine, postcard-worthy, fine sand beaches, and fewer resorts (although development does continue), is a perfect place to disconnect, lay back and relax on hammocks or beach chairs.
If you want to absorb some of Cuba’s culture and history in between your beach days, Cayo Santa Maria is about an hour and a half from Cuba’s 5th largest city, Santa Clara. You do have to fly into the Santa Clara airport (SNU) and will pass through the city on your way to Cayo Santa Maria.
For history buffs, Santa Clara is considered Cuba’s most popular revolutionary city. It is home to a mausoleum which houses the remains of the national icon Ernesto “Che” Guevara. Other monuments and historic buildings linked to the revolution are scattered around town.We’ve been to Santa Maria many times, and love it, with the only downside is the 116-kilometer journey from the airport to the cayo. Depending on where your resort is located, it could take up to 2 hours to get to your hotel, which could be one of the main obstacles to choosing this location. But once you get there, and you have a Cuban cocktail in your hand, it is worth the trip.
The Difference Between Varadero vs. Cayo Santa Maria
We have been to both Varadero and Cayo Santa Maria many times with Cayo Coco next on our travel bucket list.
Varadero is a shorter drive from the airport to the resort area, while Cayo Santa Maria’s 90 minutes+ travel time makes it much longer. Additionally, Varadero’s relative proximity to Havana makes that a perk if exploring Havana is a consideration for you. We did that a couple of times and highly recommend make the trip into this historic city.
Both locations have stunning beaches, however we found that Cayo Santa Maria’s powdery soft white sand beaches which stretched for kilometers, were spectacularly beautiful and as such would outrank Varadero’s beaches.
If peace and quiet is your main objective, then Cayo Santa Maria is a good choice. Varadero has lots to do and can be busy and noisy. That can be good or bad depending on what you’re looking for.
If shopping is important to you or nightlife is what you’re looking for, then Varadero definitely comes in first.
We generally prefer Cayo Santa Maria predominantly because of the spectacularly beautiful beaches that you can walk for kilometres, and its peacefulness and tranquillity.
- Bring mosquito repellent! As with any Caribbean island, there are plenty of mosquitos.
- Bring your own sunscreen, you can buy it at the resort, but it will be more expensive.
- Remember you are a guest in their country. Respect and absorb the Cuban culture; the Cubans are wonderful, friendly people which is why we go back again and again.